HARNESSING SUPERVISORY KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE IN ELECTRICAL CONSTRUCTION
This report was funded by ELECTRI International’s Early Career Award program.
Often, decisions made in the field are based on the situation that leads to the generation of context-specific knowledge. Electrical field supervisors are responsible for making decisions and overseeing ongoing construction activities at the job site. They usually share information about the decisions they made that improved profits. They act as a liaison between management and field staff and can be compared to managers at the field level.
Supervisors mostly rely on their experience-based knowledge for decision making, a major part of which is tacit, that is, knowledge they have internalized throughout their experience. When asked, they commonly are unable to articulate this knowledge in written or verbal form.
This tacit dimension of knowledge is of great competitive advantage for any construction firm. While many firms are incorporating knowledge management strategies, this tacit dimension is relatively unexplored. 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.
Explicit knowledge is easy to capture whereas identifying and capturing tacit knowledge is a daunting task. The research commissioned by ELECTRI International implements a measure to gauge the reliance of field supervisors on tacit or explicit knowledge while doing routine construction tasks and identifies barriers to knowledge-sharing through case studies involving electrical contactors.
The findings highlight that an individual’s experience level has a significant relation to the usage and acquisition of tacit knowledge. Most of the potential retirees identified “relying on their tacit hunches” for decision making in the field. This study also identified several barriers to knowledge sharing at different levels of an organizational hierarchy.
The researcher compared the perspectives of management and field staff at each level and observed that the opinions of field staff and management teams differ regarding the barriers to knowledge-sharing. Therefore, organizations should include feedback from field staff into the decisions related to knowledge management (KM). Moreover, the proposed instrument will benefit electrical contractors as they identify the type of knowledge on which the field supervisors are relying. This approach also offers a way for organizations to categorize knowledge into explicit and tacit to better access the tacit dimension.