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Bridging The Generational Gap

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.

Time Management

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.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

One comment

  1. First I was a little put off by that generalization that this group and that group “haven’t yet retired” No I haven’t and I don’t intend to and I’m offended by this ageism. I don’t think you would write that all these women haven’t yet retired!
    Back to the article because I was thinking about this topic yesterday.Most of my age group were brought up and taught by a hardy,loving generation that had just been through a world war.They weren’t much into feelings because they hadn’t been allowed much feeling in their pre-war jobs or during the war.So we grew up with a sense, because we were told it that we were a lucky generation to have what we had.We could also see it in the progress from radio to B & W TV to Color TV to men landing on the moon. These were exciting days when progress and growth were happening daily and we were happy to be part of those days.Today we don’t sense that in the younger generation instead we see people interested in playing computer games or sharing their innermost thoughts about their lunch with 500 intimate friends. A generation that isn’t “getting on” and “getting settled down” with spouses,kids and mortgages like we did. It perplexes us, leaves us without a reference framework to talk to these people and eventually ticks us off. I think what we have to do is what I call get up from the desk and run around to the other side.Take a look at us from their eyes, we are old! Yup it’s true we swore we would never be but we are. I heard a younger person say the other day that they would be sick if they heard another Beatles tune in a commercial. Oh how could you say that, but to them the Beatles is like Glenn Miller was to my parents.We have to realize who we are and start acting our age.We ‘re not buds to these people we’re the boss but in a new way. They have not had a definition of a boss the way we have.We’ve been insulted,yelled at, told we were stupid and then taken out to dinner.We do that to them and they walk.They always won awards for even being the 32nd out of 32. They need praise and TLC. They need us to hover over them and give constant feedback.I know this is going to be tough and take work but you know it might be good for you.When was the last time you said to yourself, these people should want to work here because its fun not because I’m paying them. These people should want to do things for me because they like me not because I’m yelling at them to do it. Too often we have slid back into the old ways of those guys who taught us, remember the guys we used to hate. Well it hasn’t improved with time. So let’s respect people for what they are not what they do in their spare time.These kids didn’t have the same American dream time you might have had, theirs might have had some recessions in it. They might be cautious. Give them some reason to trust and be a true mentor to them and they will repay it in a thousand ways.

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