One of the major challenges industries are facing (especially in nuclear power) is Knowledge Transfer. Six and seven years ago, I was the Knowledge Transfer Chairman for the North American Young Generation in Nuclear and I headed a research committee that tried to answer the question: What is knowledge transfer (KT) and what can be done about it? I think what we came up with then still applies today, and it’s especially interesting to look back on 7 years later. However, if you feel the info is dated (which I do not), I promise to include some up to date links in this post at the bottom. As a side note, if you are younger than 36 and in the nuclear industry there are many reasons why you should become an active member of NA-YGN. If your facility does not have a chapter, they will give you the support and tools to start one like I did 8 years ago at my old nuclear station.
Follow this link to the Power Point from that conference.
Is this Generational?
It is important to note that knowledge transfer is more about transference of knowledge from a more experienced person to a less experience person, not from an older person to a younger person. The image we tend to conjure up is from a retiree to a fresh out of college worker, and sometimes that is the case, but all situations need to be considered. Some places choose to call this knowledge retention or management, instead of knowledge transfer.
Knowledge shows up in many forms, from how to communicate with each other, to worksite behaviors that will ensure repeated success of a task or a goal. Specific gaps do exist across the age matrix and sharing knowledge with a “peer” may be much different then with someone from a different generation. It’s not always to share someone else’s experience paradigm, but Covey’s Habit# 5, “Seek first to undertand, then to be understood” really fits here.
So what exactly is meant by knowledge transfer?
“Knowledge transfer” is a phrase repeated quite often through the nuclear industry and now it is pretty obvious that everyone views its meaning in very similar ways. The first challenge our committee had to tackle was figuring out what it meant to us and sharing it with each other before we could even start any research. Although a similar message resonates throughout the responses below, note the varying differences in age, education level, the locations and the facility types where our committee members work (these differences are specifically noted in the presentation linked above in the introduction).
When asked this question, members from the 2007 KT committee responded in this way:
- KT means capturing the lessons that have made our industry safe and efficient over the past thirty plus years and developing programs to indoctrinate the young generation. I came from a place where the entire crew is cycled out every 3-4 years, and I’ve seen it happen from start to finish. We had the benefit of controlled reference material, standardized training and qualifications, and a bevy of knowledgeable personnel external to our organization that could be tapped at practically any time. There is still a lot of tribal lore here (some good and some bad) but it will all be gone in a few years if we don’t strive to break some new ground with respect to KT.
- I see a big problem on the loss of experience. I want to set up procedures and processes to retain the information.
- I believe KT is all about improving Communications within an organization. Without over-simplifying, I think this is a two-step process with the first step as learning how to share information across an organization, and the second step is teaching less experienced personnel the wisdom and lessons learned from the experienced personnel. It is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes, instead of your own.
- Knowledge transfer means the ability in an organization to effectively store/catalogue knowledge for easy access and application to future jobs. In the nuclear industry, and in each company, there is so much “tacit” or “tribal” knowledge. My experience has been that much of this tacit knowledge is from past years of experience, and general “feel” as to what works and what doesn’t. I see effective knowledge transfer as the ability to share and document these decision making abilities.
- Preparing the industry for the looming loss of experience (note the industry is all made up of individuals). New people coming in need to know why they should stay, what’s to be gained and how to get it – but also why this is such a great industry worthy of their talent, and something to be proud to be involved in!
- This is such a special time for Nuclear Energy and everybody around the globe and certainly in the power industry is excited about Nuclear as a promising alternative to Oil and Gas. There is much recruiting happening, many young engineers are joining the field and, it is essential to make sure the experiences and lessons learned by senior engineers are properly transferred to the next generation. It would also help if people from different companies communicate professionally and help this nuclear renaissance to be a fruitful and successful one.
- Capturing the lessons learned in the operation, maintenance and decommissioning process for the success of the project and the ensured future success of the industry. This means not only the best practices but also the failures or learning opportunities along the way. In my own organization which has a nuclear component and also ship operation components, I have noticed that the newer generation is getting short changed in the experience department. Not being able to rely on experience of the past may lead the newer generation into making the similar mistakes that the older generation did. Capturing the stories, “Tribal Knowledge” for the benefit of the younger generation. I am currently in the process of getting ready for a decommissioning of a reactor that was placed in SAFESTOR before there was such a thing as SAFESTOR. Additionally everyone that had anything to do with the operation and maintenance of the plant when it was laid up (when it was defueled and dewatered) has long since retired and or passed away. Relying on written records that were made in the early 70s is good, but the lessons learned weren’t necessarily written down anywhere along with how people arrived at decisions.
- Transfer of experience/lessons learned to the “New Generation” of Nuclear while exploring opportunities to lean out processes within the organizations.
Knowledge Transfer is about wanting a voice of experience having input on future work, when that level of experience may not be at the level of the next job performer.
This is primarily managed through:
1. Setting up procedures and processes to retain information
2. Capturing the lessons learned to ensure future success of the work
3. Mentoring programs
BOOK LINKS (heads up – I do not have these books, but they look perfect for this topic if you’d like to pursue it. When I was the KT Committee Chair, they were on my “to-get” list. The good news is, they are much cheaper now a few years later)