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As baby boomers retire, “wisdom and experience of loyal employees could be lost forever”

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As increasing numbers of baby boomers reach retirement age, organisations face a “gaping hole” in experience and proficiency that recruits will be unable to fill. 

With up to 160 applicants chasing every graduate vacancy, substituting senior employees with talented workers should be straightforward. But business leaders will struggle to replace the institutional knowledge and on-the-job expertise that their seasoned employees accumulated over decades.

This may lead to financial stagnation because new generations of employees are, essentially, “starting from scratch” rather than drawing on the wisdom of their predecessors to move the business forward.

The situation will become critical in the next ten years as baby boomers – including those who have voluntarily extended their working life – finally retire.

Preventing such a situation can only be achieved if employers implement effective internal mentoring schemes to safeguard structured knowledge transfer, warns business coach Julie Starr.

While an increasing number of UK organisations, across most sectors, are beginning to operate mentoring schemes of some description, Starr suggests that many programmes are “rudimentary” and that in comparison with other countries, such as China and the US, some schemes fall “woefully short”.

Starr explains that “while internal mentoring schemes continue to grow in popularity, many remain inadequate and fail to ensure that knowledge is properly transferred between generations.

“At best, this means that finely-honed, on-the-job skills are being wasted and forgotten. At worst, this could cause a wisdom gap that employers will not be able to fill with new employees, however talented those new employees might be.”

Internal mentoring schemes are generally informal and rely on senior employees voluntarily supporting one or more less experienced mentees for a set period of time. And she suggests that some organisations, especially those overseas, rely heavily on mentoring programmes to ensure that the ‘baton of wisdom’ remains in the employee fold.

But in some cases, parties are obliged to meet once a month with those involved seeing it as a “necessary, unpaid, evil”. In such cases, schemes lose momentum and effectiveness and become “damp squibs”, Starr says.

The result is that veteran employees are not given the opportunity to furnish colleagues with proven insight – and less experienced members of the workforce do not have the chance to learn it. Starr fears that this invaluable experience, which cannot be garnered from a text book, is and will be lost when older generations retire.

“Mentoring schemes are a low-cost solution to retaining information and to facilitating ongoing growth through support and knowledge transferral,” she said.

“New or less experienced employees may be perfectly capable of fulfilling a role, but without a mentoring scheme in place they are missing out on wisdom that has been obtained from years of on-the-job experience.

“Sadly, however, many businesses of all sizes – from the High Street to major corporations – are running inadequate programmes that means the wisdom and experience of loyal employees is being lost forever.”

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