Cognitive solutions and surviving the crew change

By | 6 minute read | May 12, 2017

Easing workforce transitions

Managing human resources—the most valuable asset of all—comes with its own special set of challenges and solutions. Long-term employees, for example, are continually edging toward retirement, which can mean a loss of knowledge and skills—and the expense of training new employees.

This transition from an aging workforce to a younger workforce—often referred to as “the great crew change” – is perhaps one of the largest challenges many industries face. As the aging workforce retires – taking their instincts and experience with them, many companies are losing irreplaceable corporate memory and practical knowledge.

How to manage the crew change

As workforce members reach retirement age, and as the line between business and technology becomes increasingly blurred, companies in asset-intensive industries face three principal challenges.

  • Make a successful transition to a younger and less experienced workforce while at the same time managing the transition out of an aging technology infrastructure.
  • Consolidate operational applications to support an increasingly converged environment of IT and operational assets.
  • Secure processes around operational practices to protect the workplace and the environment, and to comply with legal and regulatory requirements as well as quality management initiatives in order to achieve health, safety and environmental excellence.

However, meeting these challenges is difficult for a number of reasons.

  1. Creating experts out of new employees can take years. In the electricity industry, the amount of time required to train to become a journeyman line worker can take up to 7 years.
  2. As new business models expand the definition of industry jobs, new workforce development challenges related to skills transferability and uniform safety and security practices and services emerge. For example, new technologies like distributed generation, smart home devices, and electric battery storage have led to the proliferation of many new business, job types, and employment opportunities in the electricity industry.
  3. Maintaining existing training programs for legacy systems while also focusing on the skill sets of tomorrow’s workers is resource intensive.

The simple fact is that many asset-intensive industries are now facing the progressive retirement of large numbers of experienced personnel, with insufficient numbers of suitably qualified candidates available to replace them.

Questions to consider when faced with organizational brain drain

Organizations facing workforce transitions – such as retiring workforce – should consider the following questions:

  • Does my organization understand the current and anticipated demographic mix of my workforce and the outside labor market?
  • Does my organization recognize the motivations and drivers of different segments of the employee population?
  • Has my organization identified potential opportunities for attracting and retaining mature workers using part-time or alternative work arrangements?
  • Does my organization understand what knowledge is potentially at risk and how to preserve that knowledge for future generations?
  • Does my organization know what skills are going to be in demand in the future and how it can re-educate its existing workforce?
  • Has my organization considered what technologies it needs to accommodate the needs of both younger and older workers?

Factors impacting organizational knowledge transfer

Important issue, little action


  • Most companies, and their learning functions, are ill-prepared to adapt to the changing workforce


Passing the torch of experience


  • Transferring knowledge between generations is becoming a critical capability


Beyond one size fits all


  • Learning executives believe there are clear differences in the preferences of workers from different generations


Avoiding roadblocks to learning


  • Older workers may find more barriers to participating in learning activities


Bypassing the learning curve


  • Getting new employees rapidly up to speed is taking on a new priority


Preserving critical knowledge before it walks out the door

There is a vast amount of practical industry knowledge that retiring employees possess, and the sometimes verbal culture of many industries creates difficulties in passing on that knowledge to the new generation of workers. Organizations must be able to capture knowledge and asset management best practices from experienced employees who have developed proven workflows. To make the transition from a retirement-age workforce to a younger and less experienced one, organizations are adopting a growing reliance on technology.

An operational knowledge repository

Knowledge is managed more effectively if it is gathered directly at the point of work execution. In the culture of many asset-intensive industries, “tacit knowledge” is pervasive and valuable. Sharing tacit knowledge is considered essential in addressing safety and reliability issues. The fact is, the new generation of workers is accustomed to the exchange of information through the use of social network scenarios.

Support for social networks within IBM Maximo Asset Management solutions can facilitate sharing of tacit knowledge from the older generation of retiring workers to the younger workers just entering the industry. Industry-specific solutions within the IBM Maximo Asset Management portfolio provide a direct link between originating incidents and problems and the solutions to and lessons learned from these incidents.

An operational learning repository holds a collection of lessons learned and proven solutions in an environmental context to be used by the operations, maintenance and engineering domains. The learning repository offers a valuable opportunity to share institutional knowledge, along with history, scenario and experience.

Addressing challenges associated with the ‘great crew change’

IBM Maximo and Watson are important tools for diminishing the impact of a generation of highly knowledgeable, experienced personnel leaving the industry. Asset-intensive companies can use Maximo solutions to reinforce programs of change that provide a sustainable way to maintain the organizational knowledge necessary to operate mission-critical assets safely and productively.

Combined, IBM Maximo Asset Management solutions and IBM Watson cognitive capabilities provide vital support for industries facing productivity challenges; profitability objectives; cost controls; mergers and acquisitions; enterprise risk; an aging workforce; and health, safety and environmental concerns.

Maximo industry solutions are specifically designed to support organizational learning, make knowledge readily available to users and support knowledge using social networks. The capabilities built into Maximo solutions provide a foundation upon which the solution to industry challenges can be built. Maximo can help asset-intensive organizations deal with integrated operations; health, safety and environment; and the “great crew change.”

IBM Maximo Asset Management can distill insights from the Internet of Things to help focus maintenance resources, reduce unplanned downtime and increase operational efficiency. Gain near real-time visibility into asset usage, extend the useful life of equipment, improve return on assets and defer new purchases—while unifying processes for wide-ranging enterprise asset management functions across multiple sites.

Taking advantage of Watson cognitive capabilities

Cognitive capabilities can help organizations quickly capture years of practical experience and best practices, and transfer their critical skills and knowledge to other employees or automated systems.

Woodside Energy is Australia’s largest independent oil and gas company. Woodside’s employees need real-time access to critical information to keep things running smoothly and ensure the safety and operational efficiency of all their employees and oil rigs.

The strategy behind Woodside’s success is in the way they grow and empower their workforce lies in its ability to scale the knowledge of engineers working in control rooms 70 miles offshore. Woodside Energy uses IBM Watson cognitive services to help facilitate this new style of learning, so that the new workers accumulate just as much industry knowledge as their predecessors, but in a different way – one that is better geared to their generational mindset.

Learn more about asset management solutions

  • IBM Maximo solutions can help your organization better manage assets and facilitate knowledge sharing.
  • Read the paper to learn how Maximo solutions provide insight to achieve better planning and control of all your assets.
  • Sign up for Operational Genius, a monthly Watson IoT newsletter. Operational Genius is geared up to be your one-stop resource covering news about IoT and analytics, predictive maintenance, facilities management, asset management and intelligent machines, and more – delivered direct to your inbox.