These days, businesses are hiring younger employees who are well versed in information age systems and social networks that range from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and a slew of messaging apps.
But who are these millennials replacing? The Pew Research Center reports that around 10,000 baby boomers will reach the age of 65 (and subsequently retire) every day until 2030, when all of them will have turned 65. And as baby boomers leave the workforce en masse, they’re taking irreplaceable experience, knowledge and skills out the door with them.
Needless to say, the value these workers have brought to the table for decades can’t easily be replaced.
Organizations in just about every industry will be faced with gaping holes in critical knowledge, and they will be hard-pressed to fill those gaps anytime soon. Simply replacing retirees with younger colleagues or new hires isn’t enough. Thus, with millennials representing an increasingly large share of the workforce, organizations are looking to technologies such as AI to help bridge information gaps.
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Millennial Brain Drain
Millennials are entering the workforce even more rapidly than baby boomers are exiting it, and — as any organization from a global corporation to a tech startup will tell you — they are taking over. Millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest group in the workforce in 2013, and roughly 7,500 new millennial employees join the workforce each day. According to a 2012 report from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, by 2020 (just two years from now) nearly half (46 percent) of all US workers will be millennials.
In short, millennials — and their values, their work ethic, and whatever penchant they have for creativity and innovation — have a direct influence on workplace culture, systems and knowledge retention, and that will be true for the foreseeable future.
Given their growing ranks, millennials will undoubtedly have a significant impact on their organizations’ data and knowledge bases. And given their digital acumen, the transition to a younger workforce could potentially be a strong asset for any organization if it weren’t for one thing: 41 percent of millennials expect to leave their current job in the next two years (compared with 17 percent of Gen X and 10 percent of Boomers) according to the Job Application Center. That job-hopping will lead to comparatively high turnover rates among younger employees, meaning critical business information and context will likely get lost as a result of that turnover.
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A Lot of Knowledge to Lose
It perhaps goes without saying that organizations have a lot to lose as a result of the generational transition that is now underway. Anticipated waves of retirements will likely result in the loss of tens of thousands of cumulative years of experience and knowledge. What’s more, managers seldom realize what they have lost until after the person who possessed a certain bit of knowledge or expertise has left — and by the time knowledge gaps become obvious, the loss could even cause harm to the organization. According to the Harvard Business Review, data losses resulting from the departures of baby boomers will cost organizations about 20 times more than the cost of recruiting and training new hires.
At the same time, the volume of information within organizations is doubling every 18 months and, according to Gartner, 85 percent of corporate data sits outside of databases and workflows, unstructured and uncodified. Historically, it’s been the people who, thanks to the longevity of their employment and the depth of their expertise, have connected that unstructured information and contextualized the data that organizations can use to advance their business objectives. In short, employees are the glue that holds the web of corporate information together and gives it meaning and relevance.
With decades of experience under their belt, baby boomers naturally possess a deep understanding of process, context and nuance, providing productivity, organizational intelligence, intellectual capital and institutional memory to organizations that can’t immediately be replaced by younger and less experienced employees. The ongoing loss of older employees over the next decade or so means that, among other things, enterprises and organizations are losing the contextual glue that for decades has held together and provided meaning to unstructured data that is now growing at an unprecedented rate.
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AI: Bridging the Information Gap
To stem the brain drain, innovators in the field of information management are looking for new approach aimed at filling in the context that gives meaning to data — context that’s lost when baby boomers leave an organization. AI fills a lot of those gaps — in a lot of ways.
For one, AI can use logic to ensure productivity. For example, if an employee requests a document, AI can prioritize the request based on the need, business relevance and role of the person making the request — an ability to put things in context that newer or younger employees might not possess. Moreover, AI can determine the time sensitivity of a document, prevent the dissemination of duplicate data or handle document categorization.
In addition, AI can fill in missing contextual understanding by taking appropriate actions specific to each document — discerning which document is being requested and what short-term and long-term steps need to occur for any related action to be completed. That kind of context includes providing a comprehensive explanation for critical document changes, conducting intelligent personalized searches and distinguishing between search and discovery — sending two proposals to the same customers for two different products, for example.
Finally, AI can also provide the “why,” the “what” and the “where” to unstructured information — a capability that is especially helpful for newly hired workers who are qualified to do their job but don’t yet have the context to do it effectively. Among other things, this could include the ability to find the important and meaningful data from reams of unstructured information and taking necessary action around it. Whether analyzing, securing, sending or reporting data, this kind of intelligence is required to provide context and insight behind the driving forces of business decisions that could shape the direction of the organization.
While no one technology can completely replace human intelligence and insight, enterprises and organizations are at a critical precipice. Baby boomers and their institutional knowledge and intellectual capital have begun to leave the organization, and the deficits created by their departure are already taking a toll. AI is increasingly becoming the glue that ties information together and helps ensure processes and knowledge remain intact as organizations transition their workforces to talented but younger and less experienced workers.
Going forward, AI will likely be the one constant — the tool in the toolbox that reliably provides meaning to unstructured information, helping to preserve institutional knowledge as it is passed down through workforce generations.