We get to start the new semester this week. The economy is looking up in Florida. Unemployment is down, although the job growth appears to be mostly minimum wage jobs. So it is useful to look at last semester’s graduates and see how they are doing. The good news is they are getting jobs. In fact our seniors mostly have jobs or internships and none of them are minimum wage jobs. Excellent news, but let’s look at the new graduates and the workplace.
A lot of our assumptions about the workplace will change in the 21st century. The workplace at the “office” is less necessary and younger workers are more comfortable working outside the office environment. They may be more productive than 20th century managers think they will be because of the side benefits that flex hours allow. Their entry into the workforce places four generations at work at once: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y or Millennials. The latter are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, and are already a larger percent of the workforce than Gen X or Traditionists. The Traditionalists are retiring and are expected to be under 8 % in 2015. Gen X and Gen Y will encompass about a third of the workforce going forward.
All of these groups have different perspectives. Recent studies indicate the following. Baby Boomers grew up post-WWII in a time of change and reform. Some believe they are instruments of change. They are optimistic, hard-working and motivated by position. Gen X grew up in an era of both parents working, so are resourceful and hardworking, but not as motivated by position. They are independent, and prefer to work on their own. And many are contributing to the way government operates throughout the world. They accept technology as a way to involve others. The use of online means to solicit feedback in government is particularly a Gen X phenomenon. Public participation, traditionally are arena where limited public involvement actually occurs except with highly unpopular issues.
Gen Y was born in an era when both parents worked, but in their off-time, the parents spent more focus on the kids. Think of no winners or losers in sports, but at the same time they have had unprecedented access to technology and are often well ahead of their work mates with respect to the use of tools in the workplace. But, they are resourceful and can easily overcome technology barriers in the workplace. They care about their image and the world around them. We can use that to implement change.
However, Gen Y is facing a workplace that clearly has winners as well as some skepticism about technology. While we can expect some difficulties, it is up to the Gen X and Baby Boomers to help Gen Y make the transition. They have fresh viewpoints as they have had to be creative to get ahead. Just doing things “the same old way,” doesn’t cut it. I actually find this refreshing and a positive challenge to me because I use these challenges to go back of evaluate what my thinking was (or is). We need to embrace this perspective and channel their energy and independence to solving today’s problems.
We need to help them acclimate to the business world, while understanding that their motivations are not the same as Dan Pink notes in his book “Drive.” We need new ideas and perspectives while welcoming them to the workplace. That is how we improve productivity, product new ways to work, and develop new tools. We need all of these in the utility industry as we need better ways to upgrade infrastructure and deliver our services.
There is a lot of talk about the difficulties that Gen Y is having getting jobs. They often lack experience, but how do you get experience if no one hires you. It is circular logic and we have all been there.
We need to give the kids a chance. I see a lot of potential in our graduates, nearly all of whom are Gen Y. I see many who are hard working and know how to find answers to their questions. They are far better prepared than many think. We get comments all the time about how good our students are. That is good, because the truth is, especially in the engineering and utility world, the Gen Y workforce does not understand why things were done a certain way in the past, nor why they should remain that way. I actually find this refreshing and a positive challenge to me because I use these challenges to go back of evaluate what my thinking was (or is). We need to embrace this perspective and channel their energy and independence to solving today’s problems. They offer fresh ideas – and don’t necessary understand why. That’s ok. Long-term engineering graduates will make contributions to our water, sewer and other infrastructure.