How To Help Prevent the Engineering Knowledge Drain

The “2021 Pulse of Engineering Report” reminds us that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put a further strain on the knowledge drain identified several years ago among engineering companies.

Twenty-four percent of engineers said the engineering workforce at their company has decreased in the past year. Thirty percent have experienced the loss of employees due to downsizing and layoffs. Twenty-two percent of engineers said that colleagues being laid off or furloughed during the pandemic has impacted their ability to complete projects. Thirty-three percent have lost senior employees to retirement.

Too often, specialized knowledge walks out the door when an employee does. Fifty-eight percent of engineers said that knowledge/information loss was very important or extremely important as employees left the company. Only three percent said it was not at all important.

When asked about their level of satisfaction with their company’s talent and knowledge management process, engineers gave on average a middling 5 out of 10 satisfaction score, a score worse than last year (5.7) and leaving much room for improvement.

Forty-five percent of engineers said that their companies have no formal practices in place to identify senior-level and specialized experts to train, transfer, mentor, manage or retain their knowledge among others in the organization. This leads to the loss of institutional knowledge and important skills but as well as the loss of knowledge about vendor relationships.

The trend of losing engineers will likely continue. Forty-four percent of engineers are not likely at all, slightly likely, or only moderately likely to be employed at the same company five years from now. The most likely reasons for an engineer leaving their current role are moving to another company and retirement.

This dilemma created by a shifting engineering workforce offers marketers an opportunity to become a valuable contributor in helping their customers preserve institutional knowledge.

Here’s how:

  • Create detailed, educational, and technical content that can help engineers maintain and increase their knowledge. White papers, webinars, articles, and other technical content can explain processes, describe how to complete a task, compare different approaches to solving a problem, and document best practices. This type of content can become a part of a client organization’s knowledge library.
  • Engineers report that their most effective ways to systematically or formally maintain, educate, and advance their professional skills are online training courses, webinars, and peers. You can host online training sessions for engineers covering topics they need to know and that you specialize in. Be sure to archive any training sessions so engineers can always have access to the content.
  • Make clear to engineers that you can help fill in the knowledge gap through your online training courses, webinars, and white papers.
  • Host and moderate a knowledge database or online discussion forum around specific topics that are relevant to engineers. You can do this for one company, such as a large, important customer. Or you can open the forum to all engineers, and serve primarily as its moderator:  answering questions, contributing to discussions, and pointing toward other content you’ve created that is useful to your audience.
  • Keep all of your content, particularly technical specifications, up to date and easy to use. If your technical content is comprehensive, logically organized, accurate, and easy to access, you can gain a reputation as a supplier that is a trusted source of knowledge and expertise. Engineers will come to depend on you more. 
  • Because engineers are on the move, if you only have a couple of contacts within a company, you risk losing that connection if the engineer changes jobs or retires. Consider a campaign to help update your database by having engineers verify their contact information, asking them to recommend a peer or colleague that would benefit from knowing about your company and products, and encouraging engineers to share your content such as blog posts, articles, and videos so that you can increase your number of contacts. Keep your database updated so you can track engineers who change companies.

Employee loss is inevitable, but loss of specialized knowledge doesn’t have to be. By focusing on getting relevant, educational content into the hands of engineers, you can become a trusted partner in helping them slow down the loss of institutional knowledge. Ultimately, you’ll help your own bottom line as well.

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