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Intergenerational Knowledge Transfer - Dissertation Results
Multi-Generational Knowledge Transfer Strategist | Strategic Learning & Development Professional | Researcher | Speaker
Sustainable Strength-based Solutions, Hamilton Sundstrand, University of Phoenix
The aerospace workforce is aging, less resilient, and facing serious competition from other industries and nations for talented engineers and scientists (AIA, 2005).
The learning environment within the aerospace industry is unique, relying on what Shaw and Smith (2003) referred to as tribal learning . Engineers learn tacit knowledge experientially, on the job and in teams led by an experienced manager. The absence of a senior engineer as a result of retirement may endanger the cycle of learning and performance within the aerospace environment.
The combination of a rising rate of retirement in the aerospace industry and the aging of the aerospace workforce will leave the aerospace industry with a shortage of critical technical capability within five years (Hedden, 2006).
The National Science Board (2006) published a report estimating one of every four U.S. engineers and scientists is 50 years old or older and will retire by 2010.
Differences of opinion exist on the severity and timing of the skills gap but experts agree a widening gap exists in the supply and demand of higher skilled and higher educated talent (Aiman-Smith et al., 2006; R. Davenport, 2006; DeLong & Mann, 2003).
The purpose of the qualitative Delphi study, using qualitative and quantitative methods that follow the modified Delphi techniques, was to ascertain the perceptions of Generation X aerospace engineers in dimensions related to knowledge transfer barriers, optimal knowledge transfer domains, and management strategies, transfer processes, and methods that might enhance the sharing of knowledge from baby boomers to Generation X aerospace engineers under one defense company located in four states.
The central question of the proposed study was, “What knowledge transfer mechanisms might be used to capture and transfer knowledge from one generation to another as massive retirements occur from an organization in the 21st century?”
What barriers exist in the knowledge transfer processes from the baby boomer generation to the Generation X aerospace engineers?
How might the baby boomer generation of aerospace engineers best utilize optimal knowledge domains to transfer tacit knowledge to the next generation of Generation X aerospace engineers?
What types of management strategies, transfer processes, and methods might enhance the sharing of knowledge and knowledge transfer from the baby boomers to the Generation X aerospace engineers?
Linstone and Turoff (1975) characterized Delphi as a communication structure that provides feedback of individual input, evaluation of the group view, opportunity for participants to amend views, and anonymity for respondents.
A Delphi technique was selected as the most appropriate design because of the need to ascertain future patterns and contexts for the phenomenon of knowledge transfer.
According to Custer et al. (1999), the modified Delphi technique begins with preselected items that can be gathered from competency profiles, literature reviews, or interviews with content experts. The advantage of the modified Delphi is it can (a) improve the initial round reply rate and (b) provide a concrete foundation in prior work (Custer et al.).
In the study, the target population consisted of aerospace engineers from a defense company with headquarters located in Connecticut. Participants consisted of 24 Generation X aerospace engineers from an aerospace firm with locations in California, Texas, Illinois, and Connecticut.
The criteria established for the selection of the sample included Generation X engineers born between the years of 1965 and 1976 with at least 5 years of aerospace work experience as an engineer to ensure sufficient exposure to organizational culture and interface with baby boomer engineers.
A typical purposeful sample (or sample of convenience) of baby boomer aerospace engineers was used for the pilot study and a purposeful sample of Generation X aerospace engineers was used for the Delphi questionnaire rounds of the research to provide a sampling of the most knowledgeable participants who also have a stake in the results.
Thirty Generation X engineers were invited to participate in the three Delphi study rounds. Of those 30 invited, 24 participated in Round One, an 80% response rate. In Round Two, 19 of the 24 responded for a 79% response rate. In the final round 19 out of 19 participated for a 100% response rate.
Of the Generation X engineers who participated in the Delphi rounds, 83% were male and 17% were female.
29% were between the ages of 31-33, 29% were between the ages of 34-36, 34% were between the ages of 37-39, and 8% were between the ages of 40-41.
Two of the panelists hold Ph.D. degrees, 50% have masters degrees and 41% have bachelor degrees.
The largest percentage of participants were white at 88%, while 8% were Hispanic and one of Asian descent.
The research study participants in the modified Delphi study communicated in an asynchronous, iterative manner. Participants received electronic invitations to participate in the Delphi study. Surveymonkey.com was the data collection instrument.
After each survey round open-ended questions were coded and analyzed for patterns and themes. Descriptive statistics and measures of central tendency were computed for the numerical responses obtained from the closed-ended questions.
ATLAS.ti 5.0 was used to contain and connect all the relevant qualitative data files and information pertinent to the research study.
Refinement of the list of codes was an iterative process culminating in 45 codes.
The creation of families of codes enabled several codes to be grouped together allowing filtering of a code family to generate output on a particular aspect of the coding scheme (Lewins & Silver, 2007).
For the current study, the creation of four family codes allowed filtering and analysis of related codes. The four families created were: (a) knowledge transfer tools, (b) environmental conditions, (c) personal characteristics, (d) quality of relationships.
Theme Identification Process Download data into spreadsheet software Ask questions Write about themes Import & assign raw data in ATLAS Read text selecting interesting passages of text using quotation manager Run autocoding to refine code list Free code using code manager Group codes into higher level code families Link codes to quotations Run a frequency check for recurring words Identify patterns and relationships In data Interpret data Use networks, frequency tables & co-occurring explorer to develop hierarchical themes & subthemes
Qualitative data from the pilot study and first survey round was entered into ATLAS.ti software, coded, and analyzed for themes and patterns.
Two themes emerged from the pilot study contributed by baby boomer expert panelists: (a) passion and personal commitment to share knowledge, and (b) barriers to knowledge transfer attributable to management.
Theme 1: Passion and Personal Commitment to Share Knowledge
Baby boomers indicated because knowledge transfer was not a formal organizational mandate, the decision to actively disseminate knowledge was a personal choice.
Baby boomer engineers expressed a desire and willingness to share knowledge with Generation X engineers, on the condition the younger engineers display an attitude of respect and appreciation. The panelists agreed regarding the importance of trust as an enabler of knowledge transfer. The panelists agreed unanimously that mentoring is an optimal knowledge transfer method because of the complexity of technical knowledge, best learned experientially.
Theme 2: Barriers to Knowledge Transfer Attributable to Management
Baby boomer respondents most frequently mentioned budget constraints, heavy workload, and financial pressures as barriers to the flow of knowledge from senior to junior engineers.
The baby boomers indicated the task of knowledge transfer was not likely to occur because of insufficient budget, heavy workload, and lack of management support unless the baby boomer felt a passionate and overwhelming personal conviction to transfer knowledge to younger engineers.
The first Delphi survey round followed the same coding process and identification of themes and patterns. Two themes and eight subthemes emerged in the coding analysis. The first theme, quality of relationship between sender and receiver of knowledge was derived from the sub-themes of communication, trust, proximity, and insecurity and unwillingness to share knowledge. The second theme, environmental conditions enabling knowledge transfer flow was based on the subthemes of management involvement, mentoring, teamwork, and technology.
Theme 1: Quality of Relationship Between Sender and Receiver of Knowledge
Communication – 92% felt that open two-way communication between sender and receiver was necessary for effective knowledge transfer.
Trust – 67% indicated that trust was a requirement of knowledge transfer.
Proximity – 92% described the positive correlation between knowledge transfer and geographical proximity.
Insecurity and unwillingness to share knowledge – Recurrent throughout most Generation X engineers’ responses was the observation that baby boomers were unwilling to transfer knowledge to younger engineers. Panelists indicated several reasons for boomers’ hesitancy to share knowledge, including resistance to change, pride, lack of trust, fear of losing control and ownership of tacit knowledge, and job insecurity.
Theme 2: Environmental Conditions Enabling Knowledge Transfer
Teamwork - according to participants’ responses, in a team environment members feel a common bond, trust develops, and tacit knowledge flows freely.
Mentoring – 75% indicated mentoring was an effective method to transfer knowledge from one individual to another.
In the second round, respondents were asked to rate the items identified in round one using a five-point Likert-type scale. An averaged score of 4 indicated 80% agreement and consensus among panel members and inclusion in the final survey round.
A total of 43 statements and one question were eliminated using the 80% agreement criteria leaving 30 survey statements for rating in the final round.
In round three respondents were asked to accept or reject each of the items listed. In the final survey round 85% was the required point of consensus.
At the completion of round three, the panelists had reached consensus on twenty-six statements regarding knowledge transfer mechanisms that might be used to capture and transfer knowledge from baby boomer engineers to Generation X engineers.
The twenty-six statements representing the consensus of the Generation X panelists, answered the three research subquestions that provided the framework for the research study.
Tacit knowledge transfer is costly and time consuming requiring leaders to determine if the immediate cost impact of collecting the tacit knowledge is justifiable when compared with the potential future loss of the unique tacit knowledge. By skillfully managing the transfer of knowledge from retiring employees, leaders can maintain the organizations competitive advantage and potentially surpass competitors that do not successfully extract the knowledge of retiring employees.
The data collected from Generation X engineers suggests there is a generation gap impeding the flow of knowledge from baby boomers to Generations X engineers. Insight gleaned from baby boomers suggests that there is a communication problem between the two generations impacting the level of trust and openness between the two groups. To extract the knowledge of baby boomers, organizational leaders must facilitate the appreciation and acceptance of different intergenerational values and beliefs.
The contributions of the study present leaders with practical knowledge transfer strategies, methods, and processes for mitigating knowledge transfer barriers, creating the optimal knowledge transfer domain, and facilitating intergenerational knowledge transfer.
Sensitivity to diversity, an emphasis on open communication, and an understanding of the strengths and benefits of a multigenerational workforce are all competencies required of leaders operating in an organizational culture that encompasses four diverse generational cohorts.
Implications for Organizational and Management Strategies
Based on the study’s findings, the following implications and strategies reflect knowledge transfer initiatives that may effectively help to transfer knowledge from baby boomer engineers to Generation X engineers. These management strategies center on areas such as (a) building a knowledge sharing culture, (b) establishing mentoring programs, and (b) initiating teamwork.
Encourage, support, and facilitate the formation of teams within the workplace, combining members of all generations and functions whenever possible.
Within the team environment, knowledge transfer and integration occurs between individuals. The result is a collective knowledge greater than any single individual could produce.
Combining individuals with different and complementary skills and perspectives and achieving cooperation among them may result in the enhancement of optimal knowledge transfer if management recognizes the social or relationship aspect of team building.
Synthesis of the data results from all survey rounds assisted in the creation of a knowledge transfer model depicting the methods, processes, and strategies as identified by Generation X aerospace engineers as facilitating optimal knowledge transfer from baby boomer engineers to Generation X engineers.
Aerospace Industries Association (2005, December 14). 41st annual year-end review & forecast . Retrieved September 4, 2006, from http://www.aia-aerospace.org/stats/yr_ender/yr_ender.cfm
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