Susannah Patton has a piece on Beating the Boomer Brain Drain Blues at CIO Magazine:
The oldest baby boomers are six years away from retirement. Will your company continue to thrive if they take their knowledge with them? Here’s how to identify who has key knowledge and how to keep it within the company walls.
One of the difficulties I've noted with brain drain articles is that they talk about the quantities of people retiring, but they have been less able to quantify the problem in the financial impact on the companies. I fully understand how difficult this is, as it relates to the difficulty of placing value on knowledge or even upon expertise. With that in mind, the article describes the impending-retirement problem from a different perspective: since managers can't quantify the impact, they are at a loss as to what to do and end up doing nothing.
That said, the article acknowledges that part of the problem is that "retirement" is somewhat of a false problem. They even quote someone as saying general knowledge loss is not a problem for most companies. The issue is really the loss of specific knowledge and skills - the "stuff" that experts have and that adds great value to the organization.
From one perspective, the "fix" is to ensure there are succession plans for experts within the organization, not just for the leadership, who are the traditional target for succession planning. With that in mind, they give a quick example from Rolls Royce, where they determined the retirement of a specific individual would cost about $400,000 in the first year because of their unique skills. With this quantification, they were able to justify projects around diminishing the impact of that person's departure. Mentoring programs are also another example of succession planning at the expert level.
The article provides a number of examples to help understand the scope of the problem and what companies are doing. Northrop Grumman lost 90% of its technical staff in the 1990's, and all they had in place at the time was video taping as the experts left. Now, they have a multitude of ongoing programs from documentation to process analysis to expert identification to mentoring. Several other company examples are sprinkled throughout the article, including a focused sidebar on Raytheon.
For fun, have a look at the "reader viewpoint" in the opening editorial.