Choreographing Millennial Change on the Building Site

by Isaac Oswalt on February 24, 2016

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It has been said, perhaps far too often, that the younger generation is spoiled, lazy, fickle, uncommitted and only interested in instant gratification. It has also been said that Millennials are out to remake the world. The important question is: Is either statement true? And, if there's even a grain of truth, what can we do to work together to "rebuild" the building career path in a better way?

Engage and Innovate

There is no doubt that, in the building industry, a hierarchy of responsibility exists that cannot, and should not, be breached. On-the-job training is as essential today as it was when the great cathedrals were built. But even more so today the vision is vital.

The value of experience cannot be undervalued nor overestimated. But, master-apprentice bonds can be translated into "mentor-protege" relationships that lead to progress, efficiency and meaningful change.

Cheaper, Faster, Better, Easier

A new generation of workers has the book-learning and is willing to embrace the actual skills, but Millennials will not be satisfied with the "way it's always been done" way of doing it. They will ask why. Crusty old project superintendents and master carpenters must be prepared to engage in collaborative problem-solving and relevant interaction among "un-equals." 

Matthew Widmaier, in an insightful 2012 article, set out the path and the challenge. Even though, as he notes, it's not "your father's construction industry" any more, it may very well be your grandson's, and the wisdom you pass on today will help to build the strong buildings and the strong business models of the future.

The Specifics of Millennial Change

  • "It is the Technology."

Change has come to the job site as well as the social scene, and it's all about technology. Instant communication, digital documentation, virtual problem-solving, time-lapse photography, live-feed video -- these all are available and should be tapped into to enhance onsite performance. Security monitoring capabilities means you never, in reality, leave the job site.

  • Work-Life Balance

Younger workers, Millennials in particular, teach an important lesson about balance. They embrace achievement, but they are committed to other things as well. They want compensation for their efforts rather than simply money. They want to enjoy life, family and good health, and they are willing to job-hop until they find a company that shares their values. Once they do, chances are you will have a loyal, productive "partner" to rely upon. Expect as well that those same Millennials will want to help those standing in line behind them, or to "give back" in meaningful ways to their communities.

  • Safety

Millennials were born into a frightening world, and it has affected their world view. They want to protect themselves and their environment, and they will take appropriate steps to do so. Rather than resisting your younger workers on this issue, join them. Post the rules, talk about safety, be inclusive, provide training and follow through with updates and open reporting. It's not only wise; in many cases, it's the law.

  • A Better Future

It may be difficult to give up the comfort of the familiar, but the familiar can give way to the better. All it takes is a little "give and take." Attitudes and aspirations do not differ so much, after all, according to a recent survey among construction workers. The building industry was particularly hard-hit during the recent recession, and rebuilding is going to take the efforts of seasoned professionals and newcomers alike. It's time we begin to learn from one another.

 

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Isaac Oswalt

Owner of 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. Futurist in nature, Isaac displays a deep desire to preserve the human element in today's business. Trust being the ultimate currency, his clients appreciate that "new and stronger handshakes" is a success metric in their businesses.

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