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Building Organizational Success as Gen X Craftsmen Exit the Construction Workforce and Millennials Come Aboard

Workforce Development

The term “craftsmanship” carries a certain gravity that some may argue is neither appreciated nor sought after by millennials. Construction with craftsmanship implies mastery of skill and knowledge about material selection and artistry that requires time and experience.

So it comes as no surprise that construction employers are particularly challenged in the present day with the simultaneous exit of Generation X craftsmen and the rapid growth of millennial workers. Like other industries, Generation X employees are owners of valuable, institutional knowledge that took time to acquire. Millennials, on the other hand, are characterized by the need for work/life balance, the need to quickly rise through the ranks and instant gratification. How can employers in the construction industry grapple with the seemingly oil-water relationship between Generation X and Generation Y and prepare for Generation Z entering into the workforce?

It goes without saying that the “right” employee hired for the “right” job delivers returns in spades. However, what can employers do when they may be actively experiencing warm body syndrome—the need to have someone for the job while keeping fingers and toes crossed that the employee does not turn over in six months’ time? While actively seeking a solution to stop employees from entering and exiting the organization through a revolving door, employers must not lose sight of the employees who are sticking around—particularly the millennials. Lack of attention to the employees who stay can cause disengagement and an increased likelihood of good talent leaving the organization. When good talent is hard to come by, loss of good talent is a risk employers do not want to take.

Millennials may be seekers of instant gratification, but they are also seekers of regular feedback. Mentorship programs help bridge the gap between workforce generations. Such programs achieve three things:

  • a means for institutional knowledge to be passed down to younger employees with less experience;
  • younger employees to receive more focused attention from seniors; and
  • an opportunity for younger employees to elevate the education they receive and pursue new, innovative methods.

This kind of mentorship fosters a relationship across generations and strengthens the organization’s ability to be productive. Just like any other mentorship program, employers should consider how mentor and mentee would interact given their personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

Where safety training is critical for labor-intensive industries like construction, employers should leverage and integrate data analytics into their workforce management and employee onboarding practices. Delivering safety training sporadically is not sufficient to keep employees safe. There is no “one size fits all” technique anymore with respect to workforce and safety management. Studies show there is an inverse relationship between tenure and injury frequency, meaning employers need to address both an aging workforce and limited institutional knowledge simultaneously. Data analytics can improve an employer’s visibility to how current safety management and communication may be improved, especially when multiple generations comprise a workforce. A 25-year-old employee will receive and perceive messages differently than a 45-year-old employee.

It is equally important for employers to align their internal policies and procedures, particularly as it relates to employee absence. When employees are absent from work, the two greatest risks are disengagement of the employee who is absent and disengagement of the employees who are still at work. Misaligned policies and procedures increase the likelihood of lengthier employee absences and dissention among those who come to work every day. Employers should review return to work practices to ensure consistency between occupational and non-occupational injuries and illnesses. Disparate return to work practices not only create inconsistency, but also create compliance issues pursuant to ADA/ADAAA. Above all, consider how disparate return to work practices create disengagement among employees who experience both a work-related injury and personal injury. An employee accommodated for work-related injuries should be provided equal consideration if he or she has restrictions due to non-occupational injuries or illnesses. If not, productivity suffers.

It may be easy to focus on the 20 percent of the workforce that cause 80 percent of daily workforce challenges. However, it will be more fruitful to redirect some of the attention to the 80 percent of the workforce that seeks employer support. “Support” for Generation X employees may mean a path to finish a long-term career healthfully with a legacy left behind. “Support” for millennials may mean a healthful path to build success. Both are achievable with mentorship, ongoing training and aligned policies and procedures. Laying the infrastructure to create business and workforce success is a craft onto its own – and well worthwhile to pursue.

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