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Understanding the generation gap in the construction industry

The construction industry is no stranger to the generation gap in today’s workforce. As Traditionalists (defined as those born between 1927 and 1946) Baby Boomers (1946 and 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1980), Millennials (1981 to 1996), and Generation Y (1981 to 1996), with their varying strengths, upbringings and communication styles are all squeezed onto a construction site, unique challenges are presented.

generation gap in the construction industry

There are many positives that each generation can bring to the table.

  • Traditionalists have been referred to as the silent generation. Growing up during World War II and the Great Depression has lead to a strong value and appreciation of hard work in the face of much adversity. They’re known to be fiercely loyal, strictly adhering to rules and procedures. Many members of this generation have retired, but a strong cohort still thrives. Though often tech-challenged, dealing with adversity and interpersonal skill sets are a major strength.
  • Baby Boomers are more than likely senior members of the workforce and are often in positions of authority or management roles. Their style is typically defined as hard-working, driven and independent, and not at all intimidated by long working hours.
  • Gen Xers are often seen as the “middle child’ between the much larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. However, they have a big benefit to being within the gap of these two cohorts and often share values between their more conservative and liberal working styles of the two groups. Not necessarily born with a mobile device in their hand, but quick to adopt this technology in its infancy, they’re again somewhere in the middle of a tech-enthused group and one that may find newer communication styles a challenge.
  • Millennials are well-known to be tech-savvy, raised in a world where the internet was nothing new. A fulfilling workday may not necessarily be a long one, and they are considered to be less risk-averse, quiet thinkers and have a dislike of ambiguity. They’re known to be aspirational, and growing up hearing the chorus of issues surrounding climate change, are very much interested in their own and their company’s environmental footprint.
  • Generation Y more than likely doesn’t recall life without internet-connected mobile devices. They’re known multitaskers but may have short attention spans. They may appear entitled, being raised in an era of participation trophies and helicopter parenting. They crave feedback and guidance but dislike micromanaging. They enjoy defined goals, being given a variety of tasks, and may best enjoy work when feeling they’re part of a bigger community, enjoying a team-first approach.

While success levels will vary greatly by individual merits, there are some typically defined roles common throughout the industry as seniority comes into play. As Deana Applegate, Director of Human Resources, Indiana at Pepper Construction defines the roles within or her organization:

  • Traditionalists = company stakeholders
  • Baby Boomers = company leaders
  • Gen Xers = group leaders
  • Millennials = project leaders

Of course, painting an entire generation with a broad-stroked brush isn’t entirely fair, as individuals should be judged by their own merits. However, generational intelligence is a must for a well-honed workplace. While Baby Boomers and Traditionalists may not be as tech savvy, they have much to teach the younger generation, not just in terms of knowledge transfer from job experience, but the likes of communication skills and work ethic.

Effective communication is key to managing these groups. Per a post by Cotney Construction Law, LLP:

An important difference among generation groups is the way they communicate and the tools they use. Baby boomers prefer the longer form conversations that phone calls can provide. Gen X and Yers prefer shorter, more targeted conversations via email or text. Millennials enjoy quick, visual conversations via messaging apps. Managers must become adept at all forms of communication and create a plan that integrates them.

Outreach among potential clients and industry partners is important as well. Communication preferences among different audiences will vary – an indicator that all generations can benefit from collaboration and cross-mentoring.

With Generation Z (born in the mid to late 1990s) getting ready to make an impact, the more companies can learn from each generation’s preferences, the better functioning a team can be.

What experiences have you had with managing multiple generations at your organization? Join the conversation with Sto Corp. on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, and let us know how you have tackled the challenge.

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