It’s no secret that people are living and working longer and the days of two to three generations making up a workforce will be a thing of the past.
Very soon, for the first time, we will start seeing workplaces with around five generations working side-by-side.
Forbes Magazine defines the five generations that will soon be working together are the traditionalists (born prior to 1946), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980), Gen Y (now referred to as Millennials) and the iGeneration (born after 1997).
Interestingly, Millennials, Gen Y, Digital Natives – whatever you want to call the generation born between 1980 and 2004 – represent almost a third of the global population today and will comprise of 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025.
Having had many discussions with various construction clients over the years, there is always a common theme when it comes to talking about their staff.
The different generations always have something to say about each other – whether it be positive or negative.
On a day-to-day basis, I have construction candidates saying to me ‘these young guys coming out of uni don’t know how to build,’ or ‘they learn everything from a textbook.’
Same goes with the younger generation, where they will say comments such as ‘they are just old school builders that don’t know how to use a computer or new construction software.’
These are generalist comments, but the key is to develop ways where we can all learn from each other and work together to create a positive and productive workforce – especially when it comes to generational differences.
This will require a drive within every business to increase levels of collaboration and communication. It will become vital that the entire workforce is able to learn from one another and that the diversity of age and experience is positively harnessed.
Here are my learnings about how a multi-generational workforce can learn from one another:
The wisdom of maturity
There is little substitute for experience. While the number of years that someone has been performing a role is no guarantee that they are doing it any better, it is fair to suggest that those with more experience will be more competent and comfortable in certain tasks.
Safe Work Australia recently found that workers under 25 had a work related injury rate 18 per cent higher than those of a more mature age, with more experience.
In an industry where the emphasis on returning home safely to your family is the number one priority, younger workers can learn from their more experienced counterparts.
We are regularly asked to work with businesses looking to hire trainer assessors, where experience and knowledge obtained in regard to safe working practices are ranked highly.
The sombre side of this equation is that those of a more mature age have more often than not seen instances where incidents have occurred, sometimes with devastating implications. We all learn from these experiences and if there is wisdom which can be passed down to the younger generation coming through, then the results can only be positive.
Over the years within the construction industry, you are bound to meet more people and build a network that can be used to benefit your business.
Mature workers can be fantastic in making introductions to the younger members of the team while generating business opportunities and broadening the horizons of the more junior team members through past successes and even failures.
A strong network in the construction sector is important. It is natural that those who have been around for longer may have a broader and more trusted one to call upon.
Simon Box, director of Queensland construction company Box & Co, believes managing relationships is going to be a large part of the job in the future.
“If I had to pass on advice to the younger guys entering the workforce I would focus on the people and relationships and take away the focus on dollars,” he said. “Really concentrate on getting a good team of people around you, and being able to work together with good people is a big thing for the next generation.
“I think when you have a good team around you then everyone can benefit – knowledge, wisdom, experience comes from all walks of life in construction and the multi-generational workforce is only going to be more productive if we embrace it.
“Being digitally savvy is important. I think being on the front foot with that and all the different changes, whether it be cloud technology or the types of systems that are out there, phones and big data, is a must.
“I’m pretty focused on doing that because as a leader of a company, I want to be able to tell my staff about it, rather than being told about it. Remaining relevant is a big thing, even for the next generation.”
Not all problems are best solved in the way that the textbook suggests.
Over the years, the older members of the workforce will have learned different ways of handling situations, solving problems and tackling challenges. Engineering and construction is about problem solving and delivering innovative solutions.
Those who have been around for longer will no doubt be able to use their previous experience to draw on different points in their career when they have faced similar issues.
Conversely, it is important that the older generation is open to the myriad of areas in which their younger, less experienced colleagues can add genuine value to the workplace.
In the modern construction world, the advent of technology, 3D printing and new design related technologies are continually evolving and challenging existing ways of working.
Those who have grown up surrounded by this technology and have undertaken university degrees, where they are actively encouraged to disrupt the norm, can add a different dimension to the workplace.
In an ageing workforce, is it reasonable to suggest that technology will create roles which may be less physically demanding and can allow us to work longer than we have before.
Pellicano general manager Chris Nock says its imperative companies understand and implement new technologies to survive.
“Building is constantly getting more complex,” he said. “With all of the smart technologies that the market is demanding, we need to be ahead of the game. Smart buildings, efficient and green buildings - we need to embrace these technologies and have a clear understanding how these are applied for the benefit of the end user.”
Nock says internal development programs around technology, including peer-to-peer mentoring is how it will be achieved.
The concept of reverse mentoring may not currently be standard practice in the construction industry, but expect that to change.
Many of the world’s leading brands such as American Express, IBM, BP and Accenture have all adopted the practice of having a younger employee mentor an older peer.
Access to social media, high energy and enthusiasm levels and a willingness to table innovative ideas are all areas in which the younger worker can add value to a business and push the more experienced worker to think differently.
I don’t believe it’s as strong in the construction industry, yet, but there are many ways in which reverse mentoring can be beneficial.
The idea behind having a younger employee mentoring an older staff member is to push one way of thinking differently. Mentoring isn’t about a one-off conversation where an employee imparts knowledge and then walks away – it’s an ongoing communication that will help both parties in the long run.
The workforce is becoming increasingly multi-generational and individuals and businesses who embrace this will create a culture, which will attract the best talent and thus increase company performance.