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Study of Organizational Knowledge Retention Practices in the Utilities

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

College Industry Partnerships Division Poster Session

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College Industry Partnerships

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Paper Authors


Eric G. Barnfather Jr. Purdue University at West Lafayette

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Eric is a Graduate Research Assistant working under Dr. Lucietto, pursuing his Master of Science in Engineering Technology at Purdue University, where he also received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology. Eric began his assistantship in the summer of 2020 at the local Utility plant working to update the operator training program and to create training simulations within the automation software. He is interested in power at the utility and national scale including its generation, transportation, future storage opportunities, and environmental impact.

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Kelly A. McFall Purdue University at West Lafayette

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Dr. McFall is a PhD Graduate of Purdue Polytechnic Institute with a thesis in Knowledge Management under Dr. Lucietto through the Purdue Power Plant. She has over fifteen years teaching at the college level with a teaching style of actively teaching students how to grasp material quickly and efficiently, while simplifying difficult concepts. Her Master’s degree is also from Purdue in Technology, with a dual Bachelor’s in Industrial Distribution and Industrial Technology.

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Anne M. Lucietto Purdue University at West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Lucietto has focused her research in engineering technology education and the understanding of engineering technology students. She teaches in an active learning style which engages and develops practical skills in the students. Currently she is exploring the performance and attributes of engineering technology students and using that knowledge to engage them in their studies.

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The key to success in the long-term survival of an organization involves knowledge capture and retention. The knowledge may include company secrets, lessons learned, and hard-earned best-practices that are lost or disorganized in the event of staff loss or early retirement. In the United States, the aging workforce poses a specific difficulty, vis a vie the nature of personnel working in utilities. Most are quickly approaching retirement, where operations staff are heavily impacted by this movement. Explicit knowledge is the knowledge that is readily recorded and efficiently circulated within an organization such as design specifications of a system. This is opposite of the daily work completed by the operation staff which is considered tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge includes an understanding of how different components react to their operation and environment for the plant's proper function that has become intuitive, thus is difficult to quantify. Properly capturing and retaining this tacit knowledge is a labor-intensive task as it is only transferred through personal observations with demonstrations, mentor and apprenticeships, or on the job training. Consequently, articulating the tacit knowledge of an aging workforce is a challenging and time-consuming effort without proper preparation, oversight, and application of established knowledge retention strategies.

It is advantageous for an organization to have implemented a fully encompassing knowledge management system during its inception; an exit interview is not enough. The development should begin concurrently with the hiring process, thus capturing early and newfound knowledge. An accessible database for lessons learned aids in knowledge retention, but even proven methods cannot capture all knowledge efficiently. The system is often overburdened by an abundance of information, which results in indistinguishable lessons and outdated instructions. It is crucial to have a balanced and working system for a functioning organization, but any implementation is preferable to no implementation. The purpose of this paper is to examine the methods and strategies in which critical lessons learned are captured and retained within a local utility. Current operations staff and management will provide data from interviews regarding their lessons learned and their training experiences. This process will result in the increased understanding of current knowledge management strategies and provide the local utility actionable data to improve upon or develop such strategies.

Barnfather, E. G., & McFall, K. A., & Lucietto, A. M. (2021, July), Study of Organizational Knowledge Retention Practices in the Utilities Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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