Millennials are now the largest generation in the American workforce, and with the Boomer population aging into retirement, they will quickly be taking over positions of management and leadership in all trades. This handoff between generations can often be a shaky one, simply because of the difference in life-experience—it’s not uncommon for the older generation to write-off or displace the younger generation as lazy, rebellious, or entitled. However, Millennials are quickly proving themselves to be not only ready to take charge, but to do it in safer, more efficient ways than past generations.
A Change in Safety Culture
Unlike the Boomer generation and to an extent Generation X, Millennials grew up in a world that was already engrossed in a continually improving safety culture. Because Millennials were born between 1980 to the early 2000s, OSHA standards and firm labor laws were already in place. So in a sense, you could say that Millennials were born into a safety net created by the generations before them.
Additionally, this is a generation who has had access to round-the-clock news coverage from the beginning. With that comes a great awareness of news-worthy job-site accidents and fatalities. This sort of broad information access has given Millennials an advantage of being aware of the consequences of an unsafe work environment. More than that, it helps them to feel empowered on-the-job to bring awareness to safety hazards or poor working conditions.
Because they are more informed and less intimidated to bring awareness to unsafe practices, it’s not uncommon to have conflict at a worksite or on a crew between Millennials and the older generations. The older generations see this sort of upfront behavior to be disrespectful or entitled. In most trades, it’s common for the chain of command to follow a strict order of top-down communication with no questions accepted or permitted. When it comes to safety, this can be detrimental, and for that reason the younger generation isn’t as likely to tolerate protocol when it comes to protecting themselves and their co-workers. Granted, they might not share the same level of experience as their older supervisors and foremen, but a job-site requires the eyes and ears of all employees to maintain high safety standards.
Learning on Demand
A commonly known bit of trivia about Millennials is that they are the first generation to be fully integrated with technology. Computers, smart-phones, tablets, and wearable tech are a part of their daily lives in the same way that eating, sleeping, and drinking water are. Some see this as a distraction or a problem, but like it or not, Millennials need and love their tech.
This love of tech has caused a sort of impatience in learning however, and unless you can quickly and fully engage Millennials in training, it won’t take long before their minds wander. The best way to engage a tech minded generation is by using the technology itself.
Many trades are now offering online videos and even streaming services to help provide up-to-date, relevant training on safe work practices, OSHA standards, leadership, refresher training and more. For instance, Northwest Lineman College offers free power-delivery training and safety videos through their streaming service at linemanchannel.com. The United States Department of Labor has an entire library of OSHA Videos available on their website, www.osha.gov/video/. Media Partners offers training videos on subjects ranging from first aid to respectful workplace, available at www.media-partners.com. This is just a small sampling of online training available anytime and anywhere from a smart phone, tablet, or laptop at a moment’s notice, and a great way to engage with younger employees in a tailgate safety meeting or coaching session.
Innovation Meets Experience
No strangers to innovation, Millennials have been raised in an environment of instant gratification. This causes them to always be looking forward, ready for the next-best-thing to emerge or way to do something better and faster. Seemingly, this sort of perceived impatience would lend itself to shortcuts and safety violations. On the contrary, the details matter to Millennials because they want to be more than fast—they want to be the best, in product, pace, efficiency, and safety.
Trade professionals can take advantage of this drive by integrating the innovative ideas of their Millennial employees with the tried-and-true methods of their more experienced coworkers. Apprenticeships are a great way to encourage this sort of relationship between the generations. Allowing the journey-level employee to provide guidance and pass on knowledge to the younger employee while encouraging the younger employee to explore options with their mentor on how to improve efficiency, integrate technology, or find other engaging methods of providing a unique job an learning experience can help both parties grow in their roles. Bridging the gap between “the way things have always been done” and “the way things could be done better” can build camaraderie, and in-turn create a safer work place.
Another advantage that Millennial employees demonstrate is their adaptability to change and enthusiasm for growth. More likely to learn the newest technology available in trade occupations, there is more than just acceptance of new equipment—there is excitement around it. With their tech-savvy minds, the Millennial generation and those that will come after will rise to the challenge of using, integrating, and safely putting into practice new equipment, safety protocols, and the infrastructure required to accommodate an increasingly fast-paced world.Having challenges when passing the torch between generations is a natural one. But Millennials are proving themselves more than capable of being highly safe, efficient, and motivated on-the-job. By providing opportunities for integration on worksites, encouraging tolerance and camaraderie, and driving change through innovation and technology, Millennials will thrive as employees, and entire teams will benefit from their forward thinking, open communication approach to taking on a new age for the workforce.