How To Leverage Digitization And Bolster The Success Of Young Tradespeople

This article from the President and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) discusses the ways that technology can help to transfer institutional knowledge to younger generations, as well as how great technology tools can help combat The Great Resignation. 

The digital revolution is changing the way we communicate and collaborate in our everyday lives. In my world, it has changed how we approach delivering safety codes and standards used in design, construction and building management.

We no longer live in a world where face-to-face communications and physical code books alone will suffice. My company, the National Fire Protection Association, offers digital access to the NFPA’s codes and standards. Through this, I’ve seen firsthand that the arrival of online digital codes and standards has brought with it real-time collaboration and knowledge sharing, which can help drive positive outcomes across teams. This evolution comes at a time when there is a looming concern from trade workers about the ongoing labor shortage, with 77% of tradespeople viewing it as a problem, according to a report by Angi. Amid this Great Resignation, preserving generational wisdom, disseminating updates quickly and allowing trade businesses to focus on their primary goals are essential.

Without preserving generational wisdom, knowledge retires when people do.

Generational knowledge serves as a critical educational tool for entry-level tradespeople in all fields. As more young people graduate from trade schools and programs, they are entering a field of experienced designers, engineers and construction workers with years of knowledge and firsthand experience. Some of this knowledge can’t be taught in a textbook or course curriculum but comes from decades of getting your hands dirty and learning from past mistakes. This insight can help recent graduates adapt to new situations quickly, avoid errors, discover more efficient ways to complete processes and give them the confidence to propel their careers forward.

However, transferring this knowledge from older generations of skilled labor technicians – 27% of whom are within 10 years of retirement, Angi also found – to those just entering the field has always been a challenge for organizations. How do you take the hundreds of sticky notes and annotations in the 45-year veteran’s code book and distill them into a helpful knowledge base for rookies? As we grapple with the Great Resignation and older generations retiring, I’m seeing advanced tradespeople leave organizations and take their knowledge with them. In our current technological landscape, however, digital trails make it so this doesn’t have to be the case. And this new generation is already used to learning and working in digital environments for other aspects of living.

Organizations can leverage technology so that designers, engineers and construction workers can access information anywhere and at any time. Team members can make an effort to distribute knowledge, so new generations of trade workers can learn from the generations before them without ever needing to meet face to face or take their own notes. Create a digital history to help teams upskill labor and ensure that expertise doesn’t disappear from the organization when its employees do. Digitization also helps new company updates get disseminated quickly and accurately across organizations to ensure project compliance.

As digital tools streamline collaboration and ensure projects are completed with safety at the forefront, organizations can turn their focus to their primary business goals, whether it’s a healthcare organization tasked with maintaining occupant health and comfort, an education facility focused on preparing students for their next journey or a financial institution prioritizing their customers’ safety and securing their assets.

However, it’s important to leverage tech effectively.

In industries traditionally hesitant to adopt digital transformation, ease of use and user experience are key. In order to get buy-in from veteran employees used to working in a certain way, the technology you deploy should require little to no training, be easy to access and navigate, and provide tangible value to employees’ daily operations. The biggest challenge should be in shifting the working culture and getting your team to leverage digital tools – not figuring out the technology itself.

Education and internal communications are key here. Leaders need to provide a level of transparency to their teams on precisely why and how a digital tool will benefit their work. Depending on the organization, that might come in the form of an email, a brief training session or an on-site demo. It can also be helpful to provide context on the larger state of digitalization in your immediate ecosystem. Do your competitors have a digital edge that is winning them more business? Will specific software enable you to gain a competitive advantage and grow the business at large?

It’s worth noting that not every digital tool will be right for your organization. If digitization delivers the value it promises, adoption shouldn’t be too much of an uphill battle. If it is, it’s worth listening to employees to identify pain points and opportunities for improvement. From there, organizations can find technology that’s the right fit.

Where the Great Resignation presents a challenge for organizations, digital tools might serve as one solution. Rather than older generations taking years of industry-specific knowledge with them upon retiring, that knowledge can be easily disseminated to tradespeople who are just starting their careers. Digital tools can provide employees of all knowledge levels with a platform for simplified communications and seamless collaboration with their peers, ensuring that projects can be completed with greater efficiency.

Jim Pauley, President and CEO, National Fire Protection Association

This article was written by Jim Pauley from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to