Leveraging Your Technical Expertise: Three Knowledge Gaps between Experts and Mid-Career Employees

Carla O'Dell's picture

I would like to share some intriguing findings from a hot new APQC research project:  turning the shortage of experts in scientific, technical, and engineering specialties on its ear and asking how organizations can leverage the experts they have.  This is the first in a series of posts about our findings.

Technical leaders are contending with three knowledge gaps needed to meet today’s demands and tomorrow’s growth. The first is how to turn mid-career employees into true experts.  When it comes to filling the gaps in technical expertise, most organizations focus on recruiting new talent when in fact we find there may be an even bigger pay off and even sooner by preparing your mid-career employees to fill the gaps when seasoned experts depart. 

The second gap is the need to accelerate the development of novices and newcomers so they can work independently and begin contributing sooner. Many organizations report that they have more projects underway than in the past, resulting in a greater need for project management skills and business acumen. Organizations need employees to take on more responsibility earlier in their careers. The flip side is that many of these newcomers want the responsibility earlier. They’re less patient than their predecessors and they’re not going to stay engaged over the long term if they are relegated to an apprentice-style role for years and years.

The third gap is urgent and widespread across all industries, and it is not a function of retiring employees. Technologies and markets are changing so rapidly that it is new expertise that is in short supply. When we asked our audience about the reasons behind current expertise shortages, the most common responses focused on rapidly emerging new technologies, complex project management, and product mixes—not the aging work force. The type of expertise in demand at these organizations cannot be transferred from departing veterans and yet must be developed quickly, sometimes by conscripting talent and content from other disciplines.   

The shortage of expertise has many layers. Please stay tuned for coming posts where I reveal more about our research findings like the myth of the generation gap, how to use technical networks and communities of practice to invent new knowledge, how to get the biggest payoff from integrating the classic approaches to increasing knowledge with knowledge management and content management, and restructuring (yes, you may have to do it again).

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