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Gen-X and gen-y: Teaching Them the Business

How to bridge the age gap between older and younger workers in the utility industry.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 2004

these are the things you need to cover. Otherwise, you just never know what they're talking about. You're just kind of assuming it's the right things."

Another key to success, Steinberger believes, is being very selective about who is allowed to transfer key information, and with whom they are chosen to work. The knowledge retention program "needs to be able to identify the best resources for the process, those key individuals that will be good at delivering information," Steinberger emphasizes. "If a new worker is coming on board, there should be a plan: I'm going to put the new individual with this person, and this is the information I expect to be transferred, then I'll put him with this person next. If you don't have some sort of a plan for this-if you just expect it to happen-you won't get anywhere near the full value of it."

As part of this matching process, Steinberger sees value in trying to bridge the generation gap by finding some common ground between "teacher and student." He gives the example of a local high school graduate, a good student with some mechanical talent, who wants to develop a career without the need to pursue a degree first. In his or her early days in the workforce, the new employee would be teamed up with a craft worker with a similar career interests and background (e.g., they both grew up in or live in the same area). Despite the age difference, the common background helps foster a sense of empathy in the learning process, since the two are, in Steinberger's words, "cut from the same cloth." What's less likely to happen is that a degreed engineer from another part of the country would be put in a position where he or she is expected to extract critical knowledge from that same veteran craft worker, because tensions can arise if the older worker senses the younger has any feelings of superiority or privilege. "It can sometimes be a delicate situation in terms of acceptance," Steinberger states.

A selective approach to selecting "teachers" and their best-matched "students," combined with a guide for the transfer of knowledge like ATC's OGDs, maximizes the transfer of good information while minimizing the transfer of irrelevant information, "urban legends," or inaccurate instructions.

Real Life

We're unlikely to see knowledge retention for utilities boiled down anytime soon into a video game with joystick-controlled, wrench-wielding characters battling the evils of leaky pump seals and blown transformers, so game-like training is perhaps a concession the GenXers and Bridgers will have to make for the time being. Once the knowledge manager acknowledges the special needs of the new generation of workers and integrates those considerations into knowledge retention planning, the other needs easily can be met in a traditional work environment. The need for delivery of relevant content can be met by helping older workers streamline their knowledge elicitation and by selecting the best men and women for the job of mentoring the new workers. The need for an interactive and hands-on approach can be met by giving