A blueprint for the new generation of construction pros
by Keith Collinsworth
July 21, 2016

“Kids these days”. “They just don’t get it.” “They don’t understand the meaning of hard work.” Admit it; you have uttered these phrases around the office. You have looked at your new hires and wondered, “What are we getting in to?” and the inevitable, “Will they last?” You are not alone. In the past year, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. They comprise just over one-third of the workforce, and that number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020. Smart business owners are planning for this shift in workforce demographics carefully. It is even more important in the construction industry because the clash between generations is seemingly more common.

Management and business roles tend to be held by baby boomers who typically began their careers in labor positions in the field. The experience of rising through the ranks by building with your own hands seems fundamentally at odds with the new multiscreen, technology-enabled generation. But it doesn’t have to be. The following are four top-level strategies to effectively integrating the millennial generation into your team.

1. Move from Mentoring to Matchmaking

Assigning a mentor to each new hire is a smart move, but it’s time to retool the process. Traditional assumptions hold that it is the mentor’s responsibility to groom the mentee. Consider changing the emphasis of your mentoring program to matchmaking. All generations of workers have a lot to learn from each other. Older workers can certainly share technical experience, interpersonal skills and in-depth business knowledge. Millennials can add value by teaching the established workforce about technology, efficiency, process improvements and more. Moreover, millennials crave feedback and face-to-face interaction. In an era of likes and web-based analytics, it’s not surprising that millennials want to know exactly how well they measure up. They are used to having that information right at their fingertips. A recent FMI Millennials Survey reported nearly half of millennials want to receive feedback at least monthly, and a resounding 85 percent prefer that delivery via face-to-face interaction. Check in with your mentors, mentee frequently and assess how they are learning and improving as a result of each other’s influence.

2. Connect Office & Field Roles

Gather together a group of 10 field and business office employees for a leadership breakfast. Position the gathering as a “fireside chat,” or an opportunity to connect with a high-level executive in an intimate setting. The strategy to flatten your organization is an important one. Your employees, regardless of age or role, crave communication. Millennials want transparency and access. Employees who are well-informed of the organization’s successes and challenges are more likely to remain fully committed to the team. The leadership breakfast also plays an important role in building connections between office and field personnel. At breakfast, address misconceptions about job roles and responsibilities and uncover ways to improve communication.

3. Issue Challenging Assignments

Give millennials the opportunity to impact the bottom line. According to the FMI survey, only 28 percent of millennials feel their current organizations are making “full use” of their skills. That’s a lot of untapped potential. Millennials are ambitious. They have grown up with technology at their fingertips, and they are poised to inject the construction industry with some much-needed innovation.
Millennials are eager to make a big impact early in their careers. Yet, because they approach their work in a different way, their true intentions are often misconstrued
as entitlement.

Don’t mistake their eagerness to contribute for the expectation to leapfrog ahead without proving merit. Rather, millennials want to have a seat at the table and to feel like their voice matters. Again, consider the technology platforms that enabled their coming of age. Social media platforms serve to flatten the world in which we live; allowing everyone to have a voice and a platform and to connect with likeminded groups more easily than ever.

Millennials are seeking a career trifecta in all that they do. They want to add value to the team, make an impact on their organization and find meaning in their work. As an employer, that requires that you do two important things. Issue challenging assignments that allow them to employ problem-solving skills.

Couple these assignments with complete transparency about what the results mean to your organization. If the product of their work generates significant savings or bottom-line impact for the business, they need to know. Don’t let their age fool you. When you issue assignments with true grit, your millennial workforce may surprise you with
meaningful results.

4. Listen & Offer Feedback

Millennials are easily misconstrued as “flight risks”—ready to fly the coop when a better opportunity presents itself. After all, it has become increasingly rare among the generations following the baby boomers to find employees with track records of 10, 15 or 20 years or more with a single employer.

However, an IBM study demonstrated that millennials value stability, job security and loyalty to the firm as much as older generations do. Breed that loyalty through a two-way dialogue with your millennial employees. Ask them about the most rewarding parts of their job and about opportunities to improve communication. Share details about the company’s short-term and long-term goals, and help them connect with tangible opportunities to contribute.

When you’re tempted to use the phrase, “Kids these days,” remember, someone probably said the same thing about your generation, too.