Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bridging Generational Gaps through Best Practices

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

Last Thursday, I was afforded the opportunity to lead a session entitled Understanding and Bridging the Gap across Generations at the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) Workforce Week Conference.

My presentation was composed of three sections. In the first segment, I discussed characteristics and stereotypes of each generation, from the Greatest Generation to the Millennials. After pointing out differences, many of which are well-known to most, I talked about similarities that can be leveraged in communities, including public design elements, social opportunities, and basic human needs like respect. The main takeaway of the first section was that the differences between generations need to be considered, but the generations aren’t as different as it sometimes seems. The similarities are just as important.

The second part of the presentation, Workforce Sustainability in Construction, was research-heavy. I provided employment projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as dependency ratios for various construction occupations. Dependency ratios are simply the ratio between “young professionals,” or workers in a given occupation between the ages of 25 and 44, and experienced professionals nearing retirement between the ages of 45 and 64. This is one of the most basic ways to evaluate workforce sustainability, by measuring whether there are currently enough young professionals in an occupation to eventually replace the retirees. If the ratio is over 1.0, there are enough younger workers to replace older workers, in sheer numbers (not taking skills and knowledge into consideration). If the ratio is less than 1.0, the given sector or occupation is at risk. Nationwide, the construction sector (NAICS 23) is sustainable with a ratio of 1.13. Construction occupations that are at risk nationwide include tool and die makers (ratio of 0.42), model makers (0.49), construction and building inspectors (0.59), and civil engineering technicians (0.81). There are several currently sustainable occupations, including drywall and ceiling tile installers (1.66), cement masons and concrete finishers (1.51), electricians (1.32), brickmasons and blockmasons (1.31), and architectural and civil drafters (1.24). It is important to note, though, that these occupational age dynamics vary by community.

Because the overall purpose of the presentation was to convey the importance of bridging the gap between generations and ensuring that younger workers have clear career paths and career advancement opportunities, the last segment focused on best practices. There are only two ways for communities and similarly, businesses, to have the talent they need to fill current jobs: talent attraction and long-term talent development. Building talent pipelines is vital. Here are just a few best practices I highlighted.

Leadership Programs

Leadership programs, both at the firm and community levels, are important for giving young workers the opportunity to network, learn skills, and gain experience that will prepare them for future job opportunities and promotions.

- Firms such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, IBM, and Deloitte have designed leadership programs to assist their employees with mentorship and training opportunities, particularly their most recent hires. These companies consistently rank on Chief Executive’s Best Companies for Leaders list because they have made it their priority to ensure that the talent they hire receives guidance, is challenged, and is well prepared for future positions. Current leaders and managers are expected to coach and develop those who report to them.

- Community young professional leadership groups are also tools to encourage and empower young professionals. TYPros in Tulsa, the largest YP network in the nation with over 8,000 members, is a great example. With a platform, young professionals can make a profound impact on communities. Through its Business Development “Bring It to Tulsa” program, they have successfully attracted Trader Joe’s and Uber to the community. An effort to promote Next Gen Leadership, the Board Internship program provides training to YPs, then matches participants to a board within the community where they receive experience serving on a board without financial obligations or voting rights.

Industry Promotion Programs

For business sectors that may be at risk of not having enough young workers to replace those nearing retirement, promotion programs are helpful in exposing existing and future talent to jobs that are available in a community.

- Manufacturing Day is a nationwide (and beyond) observance that promotes manufacturing as a viable business sector by addressing misperceptions and connecting with younger generations. Communities and businesses across the nation host events that foster conversations about opportunities and challenges within manufacturing, including events at schools.

- Women in Construction Week highlights opportunities for women in the construction sector, including both executive/administrative and hands-on opportunities. It also celebrates contributions that women have made in the sector. National Association of Women in Construction chapters host events nationwide during this week. 
Career Exposure Programs

While filling existing jobs is, of course, a priority, it is also important to reach the youth to prepare them for future jobs. Higher exposure increases a student’s perception of possible careers and is a way to connect future job projections to future homegrown talent.

- Southwire 12 for Life public-private partnership formed by Southwire and Carroll County Schools in Georgia to address the community’s dropout rate. This initiative has served multiple purposes—not only has the program helped with increasing the community’s graduation rate and number of students going on to pursue college, but it has also provided high school students with valuable part-time jobs and mentorship and full-time employment opportunities after graduation.

- In Decatur-Morgan County, Alabama, the SWeETy (Summer Welding and Electrical Technology) Camp gives high school girls the opportunity to learn hands-on about nontraditional, high wage technical careers. The program has been a huge success, with such high demand that the program has expanded over the years.

Successful communities and companies recognize the value of talent of all ages. At the end of the day, people want to be respected and acknowledged for what they bring to the table. By building on strengths and bridging the gap between the generations, talent pipelines can be fortified so that communities and companies have the workers they need.