Back in Style: "Old" Competencies Are New Again


Imagine for a moment that in attempting to fill an engineering position for your employer, you bump into obstacles left and right. The major obstacle, however, is not one you expected, such as the shortage of STEM professionals, the changing nature of work, or new technologies. Rather, it's the lack of organizational history in your candidates. The position will require an understanding of how past technologies affect future strategies. Baby Boomers and even some Generation X workers have the relevant skillsets—but they are reaching retirement age, and your organization, like so many others, is feeling the effects of their departure.

What are today's organizations doing about it? Consider the example of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where maintaining institutional history and knowledge is having an impact on the entire workforce, including Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers. NIH enlists its near-retirement workforce and even some retirees to build up the competencies of its newer employees (Rockey, 2014). Under an innovative aging-workforce program, older NIH employees with competencies in training and development are "repurposed" as mentors to younger NIH engineers and researchers.

How did this program come about? Through HR, of course. While assessing the number of NIH employees who were near retirement age, HR quickly discovered that the organization had a problem. The discovery emerged from the examination of workforce trends—typically accomplished by HR professionals proficient in the competency of critical evaluation. HR examined and developed a deep understanding of a problem, then designed and implemented a solution that leveraged the workforce with customized approaches. Shepherded by HR, the effort helps NIH maintain its own sustainability (by promoting individual career mentorship), and also helps ensure the sustained well-being of citizens around the globe (by securing the future of biomedical research).

So how does this matter to you? The next time you study some workforce data or examine a potential threat, think deeply about the consequences—short-term and long-term—of how you evaluate it. Your competency in critical evaluation could eventually help prevent disease from spreading or a local economy from collapsing! Remember: when you bring your competencies to bear on everyday problems, your work just might change the world.

Rockey, S. (2014, June 6). Mentoring matters for the biomedical workforce [Rock Talk blog post]. Retrieved from



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