June 10, 2020

While examining the work of electrical construction supervisors, ELECTRI International became aware that supervisors’ explicit job knowledge is far easier to capture than identifying and capturing their intuition and insights, known as tacit knowledge. Electrical contractors recognize that supervisors act as a liaison between management and field staff. Supervisors are responsible for making decisions, overseeing ongoing job site activities, and sharing their decisions with management.

Many EC firms now incorporate knowledge management strategies but the tacit knowledge dimension is relatively unexplored. The situation is serious. The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), reports that 70% of the supervisors in the electrical construction industry are baby boomers with a majority near retirement age. Collectively, the shortage of skills, workforce attrition, and lack of interest in the trades among millennials are forcing trade contractors to consider leveraging the knowledge from their potential retirees.

ELECTRI commissioned a research initiative Harnessing Supervisory Knowledge and Experience in Electrical Construction to focus on developing a measure to gauge the reliance of field supervisors on tacit or explicit knowledge while doing routine construction tasks and to identify barriers to knowledge-sharing through case studies involving electrical contractors. The Foundation selected Purdue University Assistant Professor Anthony E. Sparkling, Ph.D, LEED, and Priyansh Dogra, M.S., Graduate Research Assistant, for this Early Career Award project.

The report findings highlight how an individual’s experience level has a significant relation to the usage and acquisition of tacit knowledge. This study also identified several barriers to knowledge- sharing at different levels of an organizational hierarchy. The researchers offer a way for organizations to categorize knowledge into explicit and tacit to better access the tacit dimension.

The report is available to download here.