Young people joining the workforce today grew up with vastly different technological toys than the baby boomers whose shoes they're stepping into. Consequently, they have different preferences about how they receive information.

This difference is crucial to manufacturing executives, because manufacturing operations amass huge amounts of information that have to be passed down the generational line. And with workforce demographics changing as baby-boom retirements ramp up, this knowledge transfer process has to happen faster than it used to.

Most companies are tackling this challenge by digitizing their workflow processes and converting that information to formats better suited to young workers' preferences.

We recently talked with Don Busiek, general manager of operations management software for GE Intelligent Platforms, to learn more about how companies are managing this transition and using it to make their operations more productive and competitive.

IndustryWeek: From your standpoint, what's the key challenge manufacturers face as baby-boom retirements accelerate and workforce demographics shift toward younger employees?

Don Busiek: First of all, you've got people who've been working at a plant their entire lives, and they understand that plant like they do the back of their hand. And now they're starting to retire. Combine that with the trend of big data: All of the machines on the plant floor are now Internet-capable, they all have OPC connections, so you've got huge volumes of data flowing off the machines telling you if they're performing correctly, what their uptime is, what's their efficiency is, etc. And you've got people who know what to do with that information because they've been dealing with it for the last 40 years—but, as I said, those people starting to retire.

Then, combine those two trends with a third: You've got a new generation of twentysomethings coming in who expect a user experience with their technology that rivals what they get on their iPhones, their video games and Facebook.

Those three trends are happening right now. That's kind of the apex of what we're seeing on the plant floor.