Millennials will be taking over the construction workforce in the next few years, supplanting the youngest of the Baby Boomers.
Millennials Need a Different Management Style
By Jeff Winke
Love ’em; hate ’em…makes no difference. Millennials are here to stay. They are the generation born between 1980ish and 2000ish and are the workforce of tomorrow being hired today. The Millennial generation will compose the majority of the construction workforce by 2018, according to the U.S. Census.
While the economy rebounds and the projects come in, Baby Boomers are leaving and Millennials are there to take their place. But the struggle is there. Millennials require a new style of recruitment, management and retention.
Here are five characteristics of Millennials that, with some adjustment of an owner or manager’s thinking, can be exploited to the best advantage:
1. Technology is Central -- They grew up differently. They are truly the new-technology generation where technological innovation occurs so quickly it is expected to be a part of normal life for Millennials. For fun, hand a Millennial a yellow-pages telephone book and ask them to look up the number for the closest Wallmart store. It will take less than 10 seconds before they’re reaching for their smart phone and saying “this is stupid, I can go online and have the number in about five seconds.” Contractors can take advantage of that ease with technology to help their companies advance. Millennials are more likely to feel comfortable with project management software to GPS machine control to texting-based employee time tracking to BIM modeling to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Technology is there, evolving, emerging, and able to help a contractor be more productive, but it needs courageous brains within the company to control it and use it to the best advantage. Millennials are the naturals.
2. Comfortable Working with Those Older Than Them – Think about it, many Millennials grew up being shuttled from school to supervised activity to home with parents to supervised activity. They were kept busy as a means “to keep them out of trouble.” They are comfortable being with older adults who are friends and mentors. They respect and trust experience. Contractors can pair up a Millennial with an older employee in buddy teams, where it is made clear they are a pair of equals who can learn from each other.
3. Communication is Immediate – For Millennials communication is a click away and close to 24/7. They check their text messages before going to bed at night—whatever time that might be—and will respond right away before turning off the light. Their connections include friends, family, co-workers, school chums, teachers, and industry colleagues—all reachable through a text message, tweet, or FaceBook message. Emails are becoming passé like mailed letters. The mobile phone has become the go–to device for staying in touch and documenting responses, agreements, plans, and coordinating life. Millennials expect communication to be fluid and transparent. As technology pushes into construction sites, tech expertise and ways to use it are going to be critical. Millennials have the opportunity to redefine how communication occurs on the construction site and within the organization.
4. Meaning, not Money is the Motivator – Millennials want to feel they are contributing to a better good. The results of construction are tangible, so showing the benefit to others or the community, city, region, or beyond taps into the satisfaction of doing something meaningful. Where possible, honor the Millennial employee’s request to have the company sponsor charity events, perform pro bono work, match employee donations to nonprofits, or give employees paid time off to volunteer. And make sure to have the employee “brag” about what they did (through the generosity of the company!) on the company website and through all available social media channels. Also, to give Millennials meaning in their work put them in charge of a project—no matter how small—and point out how their project fits into the larger company goals. Encourage them to come up with creative solutions and question the status quo, and the results may lead to improved practices and greater productivity.
5. Keep on Learning – Millennials may be the best-educated generation, which may explain some of the challenges attracting them—many see jobs that don’t require a college degree as beneath them. Make ongoing education and training a priority. Take advantage of all opportunities. If an equipment dealer holds a product demo on site, include them. Send them to local or regional trade shows with the proviso they return with one new idea or product solution. Grill them on why they think the idea or product will help; what the return on investment would be; and how quickly the company could profit from it. In doing this, the Millennial is being trained to think like a business person and it taps into a generational inclination to identify as being a part of a community. Additionally, as with all generations, Millennials starting out have a learning curve. Teaching them soft skills, such as time management, public speaking/presentations, and customer service will help them and the company succeed.
Millennials are different, but in many respects they are not. Every generation has had to struggle against the opinions of the older generation as they tried to define who they are and establish themselves. Every older generation has looked at the younger generation coming up and shook their heads and said, “Things will surely go to crap when they take over…tsk, tsk.” But the Earth continues its rotation; the world survives.
Some may likely think that the Millennials will be the end of it all. But in the construction market, the smart contractor will do what they’ve always done: adapt, adjust, and be stronger.
The Kids Are Alright
By Giles Lamberston
Labels. You gotta love ’em, particularly the labels attached to generations. Baby Boomers… Millennials… Generations X, Y and Z. Such labeling is mostly a game for demographers who, like advertising executives, are tasked with selling a new model that under the skin is pretty identical to the old model. Sometimes the differences aren’t even skin deep, which surely is the case with Millennials.
I like Millennials. Some of my best friends are Millennials—I guess. The problem is I can’t tell which of my friends are Millennials and which fall into the Generation X and Y camps. They are not, you see, very much different. That being true, the notion that Millennials need special handling by management begs the question, why?
Yes, Millennials will be taking over the construction workforce in the next few years, supplanting the youngest of the Baby Boomers. Yes, this ordinary evolutionary change in the workforce probably will require some management adjustments as did the changeover from the so-called Greatest Generation to the post-World War II Baby Boomers. Wholesale life experiences (think wars and cultural change) and advances in technology tend to shape each generation’s habits and attitudes, but the shaping is not as transformational as popularly advertised.
Consequently, good managers need not overhaul their manuals and procedures to get the most out of their Millennial employees. They need only tweak what they have been doing. If more than that is required, what they have been doing probably wasn’t very good.
Some general considerations:
1) Evaluation: Millennials, like other categories of employees, must have their skill sets matched to construction tasks, all the way from front office administration to operation of equipment on a work site. It is true that the generation is tech savvy, by and large, but it would be a mistake to ascribe such ability to an entire generation. Some Millennials indeed are techies, but some are “peoplies” with a greater natural feel for human relations than for 21st-century devices. Managers will still need to test and discern the aptitude of individual Millennial new-hires.
2) Identification: Management’s task always is to ID potential leaders in the office and field and to manage their ascent within the ranks. Some Millennials are leaders, some not. Some may mistake speedy communication or multi-tasking skills with leadership, when in fact those skills are better utilized in production. Rarer is the smart worker who can blend technical skill and team-building, capacity and vision, to raise an entire team’s production. Millennial employees, like others, will need parsing by astute managers.
3) Motivation: Some sage somewhere has promoted the idea that Millennials are more in tune with the larger community than predecessor generations, and are less moved by money. They are said to feel greater urgency to contribute to social and community projects. Perhaps. Yet tithing, social justice advocacy, community in-kind contributions, and corporate giving aren’t new things. Millennials want to make a difference, sure, but they also want to make money. Good management will channel these wants to good ends.
Most of the differences between Millennials and other generations of construction employees are distinctions of little import. More comfortable with electronic software and hardware, Millennials sometimes are less conversant about mechanical principles. Some have discovered to their chagrin that there is no app for work ethic, nor a speed dial for workplace discipline. No matter. In the end, complementary skills unite different generations in the construction workplace more than individual skills separate them.
Pre-Millennial construction company managers still must manage. That is the bottom line. Cross-pollinating new Millennial workplace ideas and established ways of getting a job done will yield stronger construction teams. Label it Progress, which as always will continue across generations.