Aging Workforce = Knowledge Risk

New York — Many U.S. organizations are failing to capture critical workforce knowledge and experience from older employees facing retirement, and few organizations are transferring that knowledge to newer employees, according to the results of a survey by Accenture (NYSE: ACN) (

The survey, part of an ICR/International Communications Research omnibus survey, entailed querying 504 full-time U.S. workers between the ages of 40 and 50 by telephone in March 2005.

The survey of more than 500 full-time U.S. workers between 40 and 50 years of age found that nearly half (45 percent) of respondents’ organizations do not have formal workforce planning processes and/or tools in place to capture their workplace knowledge.

Additionally, one-quarter (26 percent) of respondents said that their organizations will let them retire without any transfer of knowledge. Just 20 percent said they anticipate an intensive, months-long process of knowledge transfer prior to their leaving, 28 percent said they believe the knowledge-transfer process will last one or two weeks, and 16 percent think they will simply have an informal discussion with others in the organization prior to retirement.

“If they don’t act soon, organizations will face a major exodus of institutional knowledge, as their most experienced employees leave the workforce. With more than 25 percent of the current working U.S. population reaching retirement by 2010, companies must undertake workforce development and training initiatives to capture knowledge and minimize its loss. Additionally, they must support these initiatives with technology, which can help capture critical information and distribute it directly to employees’ desktops,” said Kathy Battistoni, a partner in Accenture’s Human Performance practice.

Despite the potential loss of workforce knowledge and experience, workers remain committed to their employers.

According to the survey results, more than two-thirds (70 percent) of respondents said they expect to retire from the organizations at which they’re currently employed, and half (49 percent) said they expect to remain in their current positions until that time. The vast majority (88 percent) said they are willing to acquire new skills, nearly half (46 percent) said they are willing to relocate for their employers, and more than one-third (39 percent) said they are willing to work longer hours. Yet four in 10 (41 percent) said their companies are doing only a fair or a poor job of providing the training they will need to meet the skills challenges they will face prior to retirement.

At the same time, few companies take advantage of the experience and expertise of their retired workforce. Just one-third (34 percent) of respondents reported that their companies hire retired employees as contractors so those former employees can transfer their knowledge and skills to their replacements.

“Companies should take three critical steps to meet the challenge of transferring knowledge from retiring employees,” said Battistoni. “First, they must understand the extent of the problem, including the skills at risk, and their organization’s ability to tackle it. Second, they must develop a strategy to capture and transfer core skills from retiring employees and to identify, attract and retain new workers with critical skills. Finally, they must manage and measure the progress of the entire effort. The bottom line is that leaders in this arena know that capturing critical workforce knowledge and skills can’t be left to chance.”

Among the survey’s other findings:

– Most employees’ plans for retirement have not changed over the last five years.

The majority (58 percent) of respondents reported that, over the past five years, they have not changed the age at which they plan to retire, versus 41 percent who said their plans have changed. More than half (53 percent) said they expect to retire before age 65, while 29 percent plan to do so between 65 and 69, and 17 percent expect to do so after 70.

– Finances determine retirement plans.

Three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents whose plans for retirement have changed said they plan to retire later than originally expected. For more than half of these respondents (55 percent), the chief reason for the change is that their financial situation is not as secure as they had hoped, while 20 percent of the respondents said they still enjoy working and therefore plan to delay their retirement. Just 21 percent said they plan to retire earlier than anticipated.

– Retirement security is uncertain.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents said they are somewhat or very concerned about the ability of their pensions and government-sponsored programs to provide comfortable support after retirement. Yet 58 percent said their employers do a good or excellent job of providing financial compensation and investment opportunities to ensure a more secure retirement.

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills and technologies to help clients improve their performance. With more than 110,000 people in 48 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$13.67 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2004.