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Working With Millennials: What They Need to Know About Safety

It’s worth taking the time to learn what millennials are motivated by and using those elements to build a core training program.

Tue March 29, 2016 - National Edition

Just because millennials understand the basics doesn't mean they devalue the need for formal safety programs.
Just because millennials understand the basics doesn't mean they devalue the need for formal safety programs.

Millennials are a very different and unique generation. They respect a lot of traditional values, unlike baby boomers, yet they also adhere to modern standards. For example, many of them can't live without technology, which makes sense since they were born and raised around it.

The millennial generation — if you didn't already know — includes those who were born between 1980 and 2000, give or take a year.

One thing that older generations have learned is that millennials require innovative forms of training and education. It's worth taking the time to learn what they are motivated by, though, and using those elements to build a core training program.

Millennials Care About Safety, but Do It Right

It just so happens, that one of the things they value most is safety, especially in the workplace. In fact, millennials care more about safety than any other generation.

This is because many of them have grown up in a world filled with violence, or at least the widespread coverage of it. A 23-year-old today was only about nine or 10 when 9/11 happened and would have been even younger during the Columbine shootings.

Furthermore, many of them had overprotective parents that were willing to do anything and everything to keep them safe, including child-proofing their homes, adding V-chips into TVs for censorship and much more.

It's not a huge leap to see why they would care so much about safety, or why they might demand more options to make careers safer.

Millennials Need New Knowledge

If you want to educate millennials, you have to keep them motivated and stimulated with what can be considered new knowledge. They need to keep learning — but not just that. You need to allow them to participate in their own education, too.

For example, did you know that the construction industry is responsible for more than 40% of occupational cancer deaths and registrations? Millennials probably do already! Consider brainstorming a way to prevent these problems with new workers.

Make ongoing safety training and education a priority at your company, and keep millennials stimulated and involved. Another way to achieve this is by offering something like a cross-training course which allows your millennial employees to learn other worksite jobs and safety procedures. In this way, your younger crowd gets the new skills they crave, and you get a much safer crew out of it.

Don't Waste Their Time

Millennials are bright, but they have shorter attention spans when compared to most. This is thanks to the hyper-efficient world we live in today. If they feel you're wasting their time, then they're not going to give you the time of day.

When polled about millennials in the workplace, many older and more experienced workers claimed that this generation is difficult to work with because they are both less concerned with safety and easily distracted.

As we just learned above, they are extremely concerned with safety, so that's not true at all. As for being difficult to work with and easily distracted — those aspects may also be a misunderstanding, which you'll soon learn.

It's just that, with millennials, you need to prove you're worth their time. You can do this by putting more responsibility on them, as scary as that seems. Allow them to have ownership over a project or encourage them to come up with some creative ideas for different policies and procedures.

This also ties in nicely, with our next point.

Millennials Are Motivated by Making a Difference

Millennials want to know they're doing something with their hard work. About 70% of those polled indicated that giving back to the community is one of their top priorities. So even though financial security is important to them, it's not what motivates their generation the most.

Some ways to incorporate this philosophy into your company principles involve giving back when you can. Don't be against pro bono work when it benefits the community. Hold events where employees can raise money for nonprofits and charities, and match their donations. Offer a special paid-time off plan for employees who want to volunteer their time for the greater good.

You don't have to use these examples exactly. There are many ways to help your employees make a difference, especially in the construction industry. You could even team up with an organization like Habitat for Humanity to build community or charity-based properties.

The point is, do something, and allow your employees to feel as if they are making a difference in the larger scheme of things.

Treat Them as Equals

In the construction industry, extensive training almost always takes precedent over working in the field. We're not saying that employees aren't asked to work in the field early — just that they usually aren't entrusted with more difficult tasks until they've acquired the proper experience and training.

But did you know that millennials consider the idea of respect in a different way than most? They don't feel you are entitled to respect because of age, experience or even a job title. Instead, to them, respect is something you must earn.

Allow them to earn your respect by entrusting them with more difficult tasks. If you are concerned with their safety, you can pair them up with a more experienced employee as a sort of mentorship program.

Furthermore, allow them to voice their opinion before a major decision is made that involves them. This doesn't necessarily mean you're always going to do what they want, but it will show them you respect their view. This is important to do anyway, however, because they're out there every day on the worksite, and they might see things you don't.

Ultimately, if you treat them as equals — instead of just inexperienced grunts — you'll soon find you have the support of an incredibly loyal crew.

DPR Construction does this sort of thing by following the motto, “what's right, not who's right.” In other words, they respect everyone on the team and are willing to listen to all employees, regardless of age, position or experience.

They Value Formal Safety Programs

Just because millennials understand the basics doesn't mean they devalue the need for formal safety programs. In fact, it's quite the opposite — they love to see these things exist.

Formal safety programs should be engrained in your company's policies and procedures.

Perhaps more importantly, millennials need structure. They will follow any rules you put in place, and some even need them to thrive. This is a direct contradiction to Gen-Xers, who are rebels at heart and love to buck the rules. Millennials understand the need for authority and expect those in charge to be concerned with their safety.

Show them you are concerned by creating a formal safety program. Celebrate and encourage the idea of good workplace safety habits, and allow millennials to approach you openly with questions concerning safety. They are certainly not afraid to speak their mind or get to the bottom of a particular topic.

Let's use the idea of carrying heavy loads around the worksite, as an example.

Good lifting habits are essential in the construction industry when it comes to preventing accidents. While carrying heavy items, even something as simple as bending improperly or lifting with your back can result in a serious injury. Instead of just informing your millennial employees that this is a potential problem, sit them down and discuss why it is so.

Go over the anatomy of the body — not in detail — but enough to explore why lifting would harm your back. Encourage them to participate in the discussion, and explain to them why you care about the way they are lifting items — which reinforces the idea that you care about their safety.

Presenting information like this to millennials is the key to educating them. More importantly, you have to follow up by rewarding and celebrating them when they do things correctly. In this case, when they use proper lifting techniques while on the job, it's a good idea to provide praise and encouragement.

Don't just end things there, though. Incorporate your safety program in everything you do by being proactive and reactive.

For instance, if someone gets hurt on a site, host a small discussion that explores what went wrong. You can also use this opportunity to present new safety procedures. These actions will show millennials that you care and that you don't just want to sweep things under the rug.

Incorporate Technology in Innovative Ways

Did you know when polled, more than half of all millennials indicated they would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology? In fact, 56 percent of millennials indicated they would not accept a job from a company that bans social media.

These two major statistics show just how much millennials need technology in their lives. If you can incorporate modern technology into an education regimen, they will thrive.

Better yet, incorporate modern technology on the worksite. Don't shun the idea — embrace it. Use drones or UAVs to survey a site remotely. Introduce 3-D printing and modular construction techniques.

Distribute mobile devices and tablets to employees instead of reference materials (the materials can be digital). You can also reinforce this by creating an online portal dedicated to safety and related policies that your employees can always access. You could even create an online forum that allows potential and existing employees to voice their opinions on safety measures.

Also, don't be against the idea of using innovative methods to educate millennial employees. For example, you could establish a Twitter account dedicated to workplace safety that sends out daily or weekly tips on staying safe in the field. This is a great way to both educate and stimulate their need for technology.

Don't be afraid to try new things, and when it comes to millennials, you definitely need to step outside the box.

Megan Wild writes about trends in the construction industry on websites like Engineering and CADDigest. When she's not catching up on world news in the newspaper, she likes to write about home improvement tips on her blog, Your Wild Home.

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