While reading recent newspaper reports regarding the crises these two companies find themselves in, one subject keeps coming up – shortage of skills. Nationwide‘s airplanes are losing their engines, and Eskom has to implement load shedding due to (among other reasons) inadequate maintenance on their aircraft and power stations, which in turn is due to a lack of skilled technicians.
Shortage of skills is a common problem across the globe. What compounds the issue in many South African companies is a short-sighted implementation of Affirmative Action, which led to skilled resources being retrenched with no succession plan in place to replace those lost skills.
Many of these companies are now forced to re-hire ex-employees as consultants at exorbitant rates. What further complicates matters is the nature of the skills that these people possess – often it is experiential knowledge gained over years of actually doing the job. This makes it of utmost importance for organisations to put in place knowledge transitioning strategies to make sure that when these contracts expire their permanent staff will have acquired the necessary skills to continue once the contractors leave again.
It is in this space where narrative can play a key role in facilitating this knowledge transition, as codification is a largely useless exercise when dealing with experiential knowledge (ever try to write a manual on how to ride a bicycle?). Capturing the stories of these experienced technicians and making the narrative available to predecessors could offer tremendous value in organisations facing similar problems.