As boomers retire, companies adapting to Gen-Y workers

Last updated: June 26. 2014 1:08AM - 851 Views
By - mharrelson@civitasmedia.com - 910-817-2674

Matt Harrelson | Daily JournalKristin Zydor, 21, helps a customer in the lawn and garden section of Lowe's Home Improvement in Rockingham.
Matt Harrelson | Daily JournalKristin Zydor, 21, helps a customer in the lawn and garden section of Lowe's Home Improvement in Rockingham.
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Here’s a statistic from the U.S. Department of Labor that might shock you. By 2015 — that’s next year — most members of the United States’ work force will be in their 20s.

In other words, get in the back seat of the car, baby boomers. You’re no longer driving the American work force. For business owners, understanding who is now behind the wheel will go a long way toward determining future success.


“Company executives have been so preoccupied with the recession and driven by quarterly reports that they have failed to plan for work force development,” said Sarah Sladek, the chief executive officer of XYZ University, a Minnesota-based consulting company that researches generational and marketplace trends.

“Many companies — even entire industries — are already in danger of ‘aging out’ because they haven’t been able to appeal to younger generations,” she added.

What motivates a baby boomer is quite different than that of someone in Generation Y.

Here’s how Sladek described the two generations:

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They are loyal and work-centric. This generation has lived through many changes and often equates salaries and long hours with success and commitment to the workplace. The job comes first and they value face time in the office. High levels of responsibility, perks and challenges motivates this generation. Next year, these 50 to 68-year-olds will occupy 30 percent of the workforce.

Ahead of them will be Generation Y, which consists of those born between 1982 and 1995. Also known as the millennials, these 19 to 32-year-olds will represent 39 percent of the work force next year. They have grown up with computers, laptops and smartphones as their toys. This generation has never known anything but a hi-tech world.

“They put access to technology on the same level as oxygen and freedom,” Sladek said.


Robbie Taylor, vice president of work force and economic development at Richmond Community College, said he’s seen a lot of change on a local level with the biggest problem being experienced baby boomers retiring from the labor force.

“Power companies, manufacturing, they’re having trouble keeping people in the industries. Younger people coming in haven’t grasped those skills yet,” said Taylor.

Taylor and his staff have done some training to try to close the gap between the generation of people are doing the hiring and the millenials who are being hired. But Taylor admits it can be easier said than done.

“The way millenials do things are way different,” he said. “They don’t understand why you shouldn’t text while talking to someone. They prefer a more flexible schedule, and they’re more likely to jump around. They don’t look at that negatively. The way things have changed, it’s created a less sense of loyalty. There’s less people working at the same place for 30 years.”

It seems that the stigma of being unemployed is not as bad with Generation Y either.

Beth Howard, general manager of Mega Force Staffing Group based in North Carolina, a staffing agency that primarily works with industrial companies, sees a lot of Generation Y in her Richmond County office.

“In this office, what I see is that it’s a younger, inexperienced generation,” said Howard. “Their longevity in the work force is not there. This location is 90 percent industrial, and you see a younger generation of people that have had multiple jobs in a short period of time.”


Howard said even for entry-level positions, it’s becoming harder to find employees who meet qualifications, likely a reason for higher turnover. But Howard also sees that millenials don’t seem to mind.

“This younger generation is not afraid of change. If they can a raise of even 50 cents somewhere else, they’re gonna go,” said Howard. “You can’t blame them, they’ve got to support themselves.”

Howard admits that the work ethic of Generation Y is different overall from previous generations, but she doesn’t think it’s fair to label every millenial the same way.

“People will say, ‘This generation doesn’t have the same work ethic like older generations’ and that’s not fair. It’s a stereotype,” Howard said.

As far as experience in the workplace, numbers don’t lie.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce’s 2010-20 occupational employment projections anticipate a net change of 474,010 new job openings by the year 2020 with the overwhelming majority of job training for those jobs being between one and five years — and in some cases, none at all.

“We’ve taught a managing millenials class,” said Taylor. “It teaches everyone what millenials want and how they interact and what the people that manage them want and how they interact. Companies are profit-driven. Millenials are not. It’s not a new problem, it’s a different problem.”

Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-997-3111, ext. 18.

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