Knowledge Books Preserve Expertise of Retiring Workers

MnDOT has successfully piloted a European knowledge retention method to preserve the expertise of retiring workers who are subject matter experts. The agency has produced interactive multimedia books that use graphics, video and written material to present valuable information on concrete pavements, asphalt pavements and steel bridges, learned over a person’s entire career, for use by future engineers. 

What Was the Need?

By 2023, 31% of MnDOT’s workforce will be eligible for retirement. The departure of highly experienced engineers, administrators and other staff may carry with it a significant loss of accumulated knowledge and expertise about MnDOT’s highway and bridge infrastructure, best practices, successful and unsuccessful approaches to construction and maintenance, and other topics.

As MnDOT’s workforce welcomes younger engineers and program specialists, construction and maintenance groups have been looking for ways to capture the cumulative knowledge of veteran employees who will soon be handing their responsibilities over to a new generation of MnDOT employees.

“When Gordy Bruhn walks out the door, you wouldn’t really be able to put his knowledge and expertise together. This e-book allows users to almost have Gordy stand there next to them,” said Mike Leegard, contract administration engineer, MnDOT Office of Construction and Innovative Contracting.

In 2015, MnDOT learned about a process for retaining knowledge that was developed for France’s nuclear energy sector. Known as MASK—Method for Analyzing and Structuring Knowledge—the process allows interviewers to preserve the deep technical knowledge of experienced experts.

The method was first embraced in the United States by Kraft Foods Group to retain the knowledge of its departing long-term employees. A former Kraft executive described the use of MASK in a 2016 journal article, “Preserving Institutional Knowledge Through Knowledge Books: Models, Insights and Impacts.” 

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT hired MASK expert Jean-Francois Tendron to interview long-term experts at MnDOT and prepare slide-based knowledge books detailing expert insight on concrete pavement rehabilitation, asphalt pavements and aggregates, and steel bridge construction. Minnesota-based educational media experts were also hired to convert two of the knowledge retention presentations into a mobile-friendly platform that is also compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and more accessible to both the public and Minnesota road agency administrators, engineers and field crews.

What Did We Implement?

MnDOT developed interactive, multimedia electronic-learning books on concrete pavement rehabilitation, bituminous mix best practices, and structural steel bridge eonstruction. 

Graphic shows two crew members hammering a transverse joint to inspect a concrete slab.
This image and instructions from the Concrete Pavement Rehabilitation Knowledge Book describe hammering to locate deterioration under slabs.

How Did We Do It?

From early 2017 through fall 2019, Tendron conducted interviews with one current and two retired MnDOT engineers—Gordon Bruhn, David Linell and Todd Niemann, respectively—for the three knowledge books.

Pavement rehabilitation expert Gordon Bruhn stands beside laboratory equipment that will test a concrete pavement core’s compressive strength.
Gordon Bruhn shows Concrete Pavement Rehabilitation Knowledge Book users how to test pavement cores in the lab.

Interview results were compiled into slide presentations with video segments and relevant documents that users can view in any order. Media consultants reformatted the content from two of the slide presentations into electronic-learning books that can be accessed with desktops, tablet computers and other mobile devices.

What Was the Impact?

The Concrete Pavement Rehabilitation Knowledge Book, which was completed first as a slide presentation, is currently being used by MnDOT materials engineers and will be available online as an e-book in 2021. This book allows readers to review concrete rehabilitation approaches during planning and fieldwork. It guides users through estimating work, materials and traffic control needs; selecting and coring samples from concrete pads; chain-dragging inspection at joints; and lab testing, with techniques demonstrated by Bruhn based on his 33 years (and counting) of work in the field with concrete rehabilitation.

The Bituminous Knowledge Book, the second pbook developed with the MASK technique, was made available online in April 2020. In this e-book, Linell—retired after more than 40 years with MnDOT—describes various aggregates available in different areas of Minnesota and their uses in pavement applications. He also reviews various applications and approaches to paving, repairing and maintaining roadways with asphalt mixtures.

“Typically we need to pull a pavement core sample where the transverse and longitudinal joints meet, but traffic control may not allow it for safety reasons. This book explains why it’s important to have engineers examine the pavement site,” said Gordon Bruhn, senior engineering specialist, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

The Structural Steel Bridge Construction Knowledge Book is available on request as a slide presentation. Niemann, a retired MnDOT metallurgical engineer, draws upon his 27 years of expertise at MnDOT in steel bridge fabrication, construction and maintenance to guide users through evaluating project needs, identifying materials and quantities, planning and scheduling work, and budgeting for repairs and new construction.

What’s Next?

The three knowledge books, believed to be the first three in the U.S. public sector, allow users to virtually consult with Bruhn, Linell and Niemann about pavement and bridge projects. Project champions expect that the knowledge books will prove particularly valuable to newer employees after key topical experts retire. MnDOT may use the MASK method to develop e-books on other topics.

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2 thoughts on “Knowledge Books Preserve Expertise of Retiring Workers”

  1. Hello Micaela.
    Congratulations for this excellent article.
    I am Jean-François (JEF) TENDRON, the French engineer who created these 3 Knowledge Books.
    Can you please contact me by email ( I would be pleased to have a discussion with you.
    Have a very nice day and be safe.

  2. It is a good idea to save the experience of retiring workers. I think, to create knowledge books need the experience of retiring workers and questions younger engineers. It will a good combination. The best method of transferring experience – this is mentoring.

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