Today’s electrical contracting industry crosses multiple generations – Baby Boomers (ages 55+), Generation X
(ages 41-55), Millennials (ages 25-40), and now Generation Z (24 years and younger, which has recently emerged and makes up 5% of the workforce). Serving the varying needs of all generations and recognizing their distinct, and sometimes conflicting work ideals and attitudes, is causing companies to review their programs, policies, and methods.
Each generation possesses different beliefs, behaviors, and communication styles, creating new challenges for employers, but at the same time, significant opportunities, as different generations bring unique experiences and skills. The generations that have grown up with tech-savvy tools (computers, smart phones, tablets) are more likely to embrace emerging technology, while older generations struggle to adapt, but add experience to the mix. In both electrical and low-voltage contracting, the younger generations, especially Generation Z, are losing interest in “getting their hands dirty” and are choosing careers that involve computers and smart devices, constantly looking to new applications to make their lives easier.
Today’s progressive companies are using technology-driven tools and methods to hire and keep the workplace environment relevant and exciting. Digital technologies are changing how people communicate and work, and as a result, more smart buildings are emerging. Addressing the span of generations means finding common ground. As we are moving to a new post-COVID world, contractors and customers are relying more on touchless applications and sensors that employ hands-free remote and intelligent monitoring. In other words, all electrical contractors will need to learn new skills as most electrical and low-voltage systems in all industries – enterprise, education, hospitality – are becoming integrated. This could widen the gap.
The Three R’s
Baby Boomers grew up learning the “three R’s” as reading, ‘riting (writing), and ‘rithmatic (arithmetic/math). Today, the secret to keeping the workforce relevant is to understand a new set of “three R’s” – “Recruit, Retrain, and Retain” – all while being relatable to every generation. Aside from age, each generation shares key values, however, methods, techniques, and priorities may vary.
There are different recruitment tactics for each generation as well as different motivators – whether it be monetary or non-monetary benefits. Each generation has different expectations, assumptions, priorities, and approaches to work, and every company should familiarize themselves with these perspectives and influences.
Baby Boomers grew up with telephones, typewriters, and writing letters since computers and laptops didn’t become household items until the Millennial generation. Baby boomers’ work ethic includes company loyalty and expecting longevity. Although Baby Boomers may soon be exiting the workforce and looking for retirement benefits, they may seem less likely to embrace new technologies. They have seen many changes in the industry, carry a wealth of electrical experience, and should be appreciated and valued to pass on their knowledge.
Generation X’ers are at the height of their career and need to be shown opportunities for fast progression to move up and expand their knowledge base and experience. For example, if they have been installing electrical wiring, they may want to open their knowledge into low-voltage.
Millennials take a different approach to their employment as they are known to jump from company to company – always looking for greener pastures. They are very excited about career prospects and opportunities and will quickly move on if they feel they are stagnating as they seek rapid movement into managerial positions. Millennials are the first generation to grow up as digital natives with sweeping technology advancements. Recruiting and communicating with Millennials includes fast and short interaction through emails and texts.
Generation Z, sometimes known as the “Gamer Generation,” are the “new kids on the block” and are hungry to learn and quick to embrace innovative applications from their smart phones while relying on social media for direction. And Gen Z’ers want more balance in their lives between work and leisure.
Technology plays a significant role in driving generations further apart, but this shouldn’t always be the case as there is a way to bridge the generations. Organizations are beginning to see the value of training and retraining older workers to bring them up to speed on technology. With new technologies constantly emerging, it is beneficial for companies to encourage ongoing training programs as part of employee goals.
The adage “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is purely discriminatory towards the Baby Boomer generation and doesn’t hold true as everyone appreciates personal and professional growth. The desire to seek more knowledge in capacities that are relatable to each person’s job function should be part of the benefits offered by the company. This could come in the form of education reimbursement which covers formal secondary education, vocational training, and certifications.
Long formal training sessions are a thing of the past. Today’s reality is that workers spend about 1% of their time on training and development, which equates to 24 minutes per week. In this context, learning and development need to change. It needs to be delivered in small chunks of differing lengths and accessible on mobile devices. All generations now have access to smart devices and often want instant information at their fingertips.
Many manufacturers offer certification and training programs – in person and virtually. A good example is Leviton, a well-known electrical manufacturer and supplier. Leviton provides many free industry-leading courses and webinars for contractors to learn at their own pace through their online ez-Learn™ professional learning portal. These courses provide skills and abilities needed for contractors to compete in today’s dynamic and ever-evolving electrical and low-voltage industry.
Another method of training is a mentoring program. This program could span all generations as the newer workforce can gain knowledge from the more experienced workers. An example is to create a “shadow” program – matching up the newer work force with veteran contractors. Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers will gain experiential rewards and peer respect, while the Millennials and Gen Z’ers will experience a positive work environment while obtaining real-life skills training. In addition, a reverse mentorship allows the older generations to learn technology tools from their younger counterparts. Education and learning through mentorship results in better communication and collaboration between employees and with the customers. That’s a win-win for all sides.
According to Gallup polls (State of the American Workplace 2017), 67% of the workforce are not engaged with their work, and disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses between $483 and $605 billion per year. Although we have entered a new era with the highest rate of unemployment in decades due to COVID, it is important to retain valuable employees who will help the company, as well as themselves, to grow.
Although “show me the money” is a priority across all generations, there are more rewards than just the weekly paycheck, retirement contributions, and medical benefits. Non-monetary rewards, in addition to training, range from flexible work hours and time off, special leadership projects, tech rewards, gift cards, and merchandise. The non-monetary rewards will vary according to each employee and can vary by generations. Baby Boomers thrive on flexible retirement options and symbolic recognition, whereas Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Gen Z’ers expect career progression opportunities and tangible rewards.
Tips for Motivating the Multi-generational Workforce
The four generations in today’s workforce may have different priorities and different work ethics, but there are basic tips to motivate all employees and keep their work-life balanced:
- Make the customer the priority. When focusing on the customer and not the “me” aspect, everyone works together with common goals and purpose. When a Baby Boomer announces impending retirement, make sure to partner a younger employee with that person in a “shadowing” scenario so that the customer feels he will not be abandoned, and the trade can be passed on.
- Avoid stereotyping. Focus on individual goals but don’t divide up the workforce by age. Promote collaboration and create a company culture of mutual respect.
- Enable work-life balance. Embrace flexibility. Gen X’ers and Millennials may have young families and should be allowed time-off for personal events (school events, child sick days) and for Baby Boomers, doctor appointments or added PTO (paid time off) days.
- Promote communication and transparency. Monthly employee meetings, newsletters, or social media posts on accomplishments provide recognition and employer branding. By promoting collaboration and celebration between employees, the age gap
can be dissolved.
Although it takes a lot of effort by employers, creating a work environment where employees from different generations can work closer together, and impart knowledge to one another, will help to solidify the company culture and can make for more engaged employees. Mastering how to manage staff across generations is critical because it can impact retention, engagement, and long-term sustainability for the company.