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Knowledge retention and aging workforce in the oil and gas industry: a multi perspective study

Muhammad Saleem Sumbal (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Eric Tsui (Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Eric See-to (Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Andrew Barendrecht (Info-streams, Katy, Texas, USA)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how companies are handling the issue of knowledge retention from old age retiring workers in the oil and gas sector. This is achieved by providing a detailed insight on the challenges and strategies related to knowledge retention through study of companies from different geographical locations across the globe.


The study adopts a qualitative research methodology and 20 semi-structured interviews, with open-ended and probing questions, were conducted to gain an in-depth insight into the knowledge retention phenomena.


Knowledge retention activities tend to be inconsistent in majority of the oil and gas companies, with not much work being done regarding knowledge loss from old employees, partly because of the fall in oil prices and layoffs. Oil prices turn out to be a decisive factor in oil and gas industry regarding workforce and knowledge retention activities. The political situation and geographical locations of the companies also affect the knowledge retention activities. Moreover, the aging workforce and retirement issue is more acute in the upstream sector.

Research limitations/implications

The focus of the study was on the oil and gas sector, and thus the research results may lack generalizability.


This paper fulfills an identified need for investigating the issues and challenges of knowledge retention regarding old age retiring employees by taking into account a global perspective and providing a comparison among different companies in different geographical locations.



The work presented in this study was conducted at Knowledge Management Innovation and Research Center (KMIRC) and supported by the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPFS) of the Research Grants Council, RGC, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Project Code: PF13 - 19,354). The authors would like to acknowledge the support and help provided by Alan Thompson (, consultant in Oil and gas sector at Aberdeen area, Scotland, United Kingdom. The authors would also like to express their sincere thanks to the research office of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University for the support of the research work under project no. 1-904Z.


Sumbal, M.S., Tsui, E., See-to, E. and Barendrecht, A. (2017), "Knowledge retention and aging workforce in the oil and gas industry: a multi perspective study", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 907-924.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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