How tech can help retiring feds pass along their wisdom

By Brittany Ballenstedt

December 18, 2012

Keeping with the annual trend, the Office of Personnel Management is projecting large numbers of federal employees will retire at the start of the new year. And with federal retirements on the rise overall, agencies would be wise to prioritize knowledge transfer from their experienced Baby Boomers to tech-savvy new hires.

So how can agencies leverage technology to accomplish such a goal?

Jeffrey Vargas, chief learning officer at the Commodity Futures Training Commission, said Thursday during a webinar sponsored by GovLoop that technology will be the game changer when it comes to effective knowledge transfer among the four generations in the workplace – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.

Leveraging technology will enable workers to be their own “learning architects” by offering real-time accessibility, giving a voice to Generation Y and meeting the educational needs of all generations, Vargas noted. “You’re going to see that tech is not something that’s just dialogued about in the abstract, it’s real,” Vargas said. “Tech and being tethered to your smart phone and electronic device isn’t just something that’s being talked about, it really is the reality of how we work today.”

Still, while technology is the enabler for effective knowledge transfer, Vargas recommended that agencies use sound management practices in determining how to best use the skills and characteristics of the various generations in rolling out an effective knowledge transfer program.

“What I’d argue is that bringing all four generations together to look at knowledge transfer is both an opportunity and an obligation if you’re a leader,” Vargas said. “What we can’t do is just have one generation defining and helping us execute what knowledge transfer should look like in the future.”

This means speaking to the Baby Boomer generation by figuring out how to help them develop their legacy and own the program at some level. On the flip side, Vargas recommended that Generation X workers lead the program and invite Generation Y workers to support it. Generation X, which represents a small cohort of the federal workforce thanks to workforce downsizing in the 90s, is increasingly getting forgotten, Vargas said.

“You’re hearing more on how [Generation X] would like to be included more in leading activities but want to lead on their own terms,” he said. “Generation Y is eager to lead on everything, so this may be one area where the two generations can find some synergy and work together.”

Finally, Vargas recommended that agencies leverage technology and create onboarding and offboarding knowledge management programs for employees using some of the principles of risk management. This could involve testing programs like Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC, which include online training through iTunes University, Khan Academy, EdX and Cousera, Vargas said.

“Find a way to partner with a Boomer so that they can unleash their true potential,” Vargas said. “At the same time, Boomers, let this be a freeing moment for you so that you don’t have to be the expert in the room but can benefit from some reverse mentoring, particularly when it comes down to the area of technology. What you’re going to find is that there is a natural occurrence in the transfer of knowledge.”

Has your agency made knowledge transfer a priority? If so, what roles are technology and generational issues playing in your agency’s knowledge transfer program? 


By Brittany Ballenstedt

December 18, 2012

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