For the first time ever, there are four generations in the workforce at the same time. Some members of the Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945, and the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) haven’t yet retired, and Generation X (1965-1979) and Generation Y (1980-2000) are now well-represented in the workforce. With each generation comes a new set of talents and a new set of challenges. What issues do employers face as they integrate Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, into the workforce? We spoke to several distributors to find out what Generation Y is lacking and how they are addressing these issues.
While workers older than 30 may remember a time without email, texting, Google and Facebook, most Millennials can’t. These tools were available for the majority of their lives, and much of Gen Y has never faced the prospect of doing work without them. While these individuals bring a more tech-savvy perspective to the job, many executives have seen a corresponding lack of inter-personal communication skills. “Almost every young employee that we hire is very comfortable with computers,” says Claud Crosby, president and CEO of VBS Inc. Material Handling Equipment (Richmond, VA). “But sometimes the language that they use in emails and texts doesn’t translate into the business world. We spend a lot of time teaching our younger employees how to properly communicate.”
Harry Neumann, president of Western Storage and Handling (Englewood, CO), agrees with Crosby. “The biggest thing that we have seen in Millennials is a lack of person-to-person conversation skills.” While email communication is acceptable for some customers, many still prefer telephone or personal conversations. Distributor employees must still be able to communicate in a professional manner, whichever way the customer wants to communicate.
Another trend that emerged when discussing Generation Y with material handling distributors was difficulty with time management skills. From a lack of punctuality to inefficient use of time, time management and organization are challenges that must be addressed in young employees. “At our company, we abide by Coach Bear Bryant’s time system,” says Ted Springer, president of Springer Equipment Company (Birmingham, AL). “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. We have had trouble with our younger employees showing up late or right when their shift is slated to begin. That is an area that we have to constantly be on top of them about.” Mike Burskey, president of Shelving + Rack Systems (Walled Lake, MI), has encountered similar issues. “We have found more than ever that we have had to stress that work starts at 8:00 a.m., not 8:05.”
Tardiness is not Gen Y’s only time management issue, however. “The advancements in technology like texting and smart phones are great and beneficial when they are used properly,” says Alicia Nyborg, owner of SuperTech Inc. (Fayetteville, GA). “But you can’t do it on company time. We have to constantly be aware of efficiency. If employees become sidetracked, we start losing money.” Bob Levin, president of Material Handling Supply (Brooklawn, NJ), has noticed the same problems. “Society as a whole is different today than it was 10 to 15 years ago. It’s much faster paced. We have seen that younger employees are often distracted by things outside of work. That can lead to a decrease in productivity if it isn’t closely monitored.”
What Is The Solution?
While Millennials have their issues, they do bring many strengths to the table. Chief among them is their comfort with constantly evolving technology. Distributors have found that job shadowing and mentoring problems can be effective in correcting some bad habits exhibited by young employees. Generation Y is not perfect, but it is certainly not the first generation to come through with deficiencies. As President John F. Kennedy said, “We must do all that we can to give our children the best in education and social upbringing. While they are the youth of today, they shall be the leaders of tomorrow.” What are other distributors noticing about Generation Y? Let us know in the comments section below.