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Keeping up with the gen Yers

Holly Bilton has spent the last decade working with members of generation Y — young people born between 1980 and 2000, and who are becoming an increasingly important part of the labour force.

The Central Alberta team lead with Careers: The Next Generation — a non-profit youth employment organization — Bilton shared her insights with a group of mostly older business people at a Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Association (CARMA) luncheon in Red Deer on Wednesday. She explained why so many of them have probably been left shaking their heads after dealing with employees from this youthful generation.

Whereas baby boomers — who were born between 1945 and 1964 — struggled to find work in their teen years, gen-Ys have had endless opportunities, pointed out Bilton. Boomers had three television channels to choose from, gen-Ys have hundreds; boomers had to rely on their parents’ phone for communication, gen-Ys have cellphones, pagers and access to all kinds of social media.

Many other differences have influenced the two generations, including some that are now causing the younger group to question everything.

“They don’t believe what they see, they don’t trust it,” said Bilton. “They don’t trust government, they don’t trust companies.”

All of this leads to challenging dynamics in an intergenerational workplace.

Gen-Ys want to be heard and allowed to participate in the decision-making process. They like to work with others, experience diversity in their jobs, be stimulated and have access to new technologies, said Bilton.

But she added, many are more tech-dependent than tech-savvy.

“They can operate a 24-line switchboard with one lesson and reprogram all your cellphones, but don’t know not to pick up a phone in a meeting.”

Gen-Ys love to ask “Why,” crave unsolicited feedback and place a high priority on maintaining a work-life balance.

All of this is important to employers, suggested Bilton. Gen-Ys currently make up 27 per cent of Canada’s population, as compared with 26 per cent in the case of boomers and 21 per cent when it comes to generation X — those born between 1965 and 1979.

“It is what it is, and when you know that we’re going to be 77,000 skilled labourers short, we have to figure out how to give them some of the things that they want, how to call them on the rest, and make some work-life balance . . . in the things we can do.”

Among the tips Bilton offers to employers is to engage under-33 workers in discussion, encourage their creativity, celebrate teamwork and let them investigate change and new ways of doing things. Include them in meetings when possible, allow job-shadowing and -sharing, and let them move between tasks, she added.

When it comes to technology, tell them what you want to accomplish and let them find the best way to get there.

It’s important to communicate clearly and concisely with gen-Ys, said Bilton, and also give them firm deadlines.

“I’m not suggesting we give in to the gen-Ys. I don’t say they walk in and you say, ‘You just let me know what’s good for you and I’ll sign off on that.’ But I am suggesting we work with them.”

She pointed out that many of the things that gen-Ys value would improve an organization’s corporate culture if they were implemented.

“I don’t think their picture of work is a bad thing.”

Bilton also said that gen-Ys want some of the same things as do members of other generations when it comes to work: flexibility, fairness, continued learning and incentives.

“They just want it sooner.”



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