Blending Generations in the Engineering Workplace

Here's a look at how to get past the Baby Boomer and Millennial stereotyping and start focusing on the individuals and the values inherent in having a workplace team with age diversity.
baby boomer millenial
Image source: Pixabay

So much is written these days regarding the polarization of the generations. It is common to hear generalizations about boomers and millennials.

How often have you heard this about boomers: “Boomers are closed-minded. They lack creativity. They’re unable to learn and adapt. They can’t keep up with the fast pace of development and evolving technology”? On the other hand, have you heard phrases about millennials like: “They are lazy. They act entitled. There’s no strong work ethic. They are closed to new ideas from those outside their age group”?

We need to get past the stereotyping and start focusing on the individuals and the values inherent in having a workplace team with age diversity. Certainly, there are individuals in all age groups who may exhibit these negative behaviors. Likewise, there are individuals in both age groups who exhibit the best behaviors attributed to any one age group. Let’s get over it and move on to building a high-performance team with individuals of all ages. Here’s how to leverage high-performance individuals in both age groups to build a top-notch team.

Hire the Right Boomers
1.    Look for those who are open minded
Nothing shuts down collaboration faster than a closed-minded person unwilling to listen to or respect the opinions of their younger staff members. You want the good listeners  that are open-minded.
2.    Find team members who are still willing to learn
It’s a myth that boomers are old dogs than cannot learn new tricks. Seek out team members with a thirst for knowledge and who not only are open to new ideas but are pro-actively seeking out new challenges. Lifelong learners such as these folks do exist.
3.    Look for team members with high energy and creativity
Many of those in the boomer generation have incredible levels of energy and creativity. Given that this article is about engineers, we are not looking for creativity for the pure sake of innovation. We are looking for creativity that can readily develop into a product opportunity that meets a real market demand or satisfy unmet needs. Combine high creativity individuals with a high level of experience and the quality of ideation is enhanced.
4.    Engineers who are willing to share and mentor are key
What good is all the knowledge built up in an engineering career if that knowledge is not shared and passed on to others? The right boomers can be an incredible asset in building up the expertise and skills of less experienced staff members.
5.    Look for team members committed to the team goal
Don’t believe the stereotype that all boomers are tired, resting on their laurels and so uninspired and that they are not committed to team goals. Look past these stereotypes for those who are motivated and excited about new challenges. Such engineers can be the gems on your team.


Find the Right Millennials
1.    Look for those who are open minded
This is very similar to the mindset you want from boomers. Nothing shuts down collaboration faster than a closed-minded person who has stereotyped views about boomers. You want engineers here who are willing to look past the “packaging” and be willing to accept that good ideas can come from anyone … even a boomer!
2.    Find team members who are still willing to learn
Just as with boomers, you want young engineers willing to learn … and willing to learn from the experience of others. With the right attitude, the capability of young engineers can develop rapidly if they are open to being mentored by their senior engineering compatriots.
3.    Channel their energy and creativity for productivity
Combining the energy and creativity of the younger team members with valuable insights from the senior engineers can help a team rapidly drive the best ideas forward and avoid the wrong pathways. It is about quality.
4.    Hire engineers who are willing to be mentored
It can be intimidating for younger engineers to work with those who are highly experienced and in positions of esteem in an organization. Assuming that you have senior staff members willing to serve as mentors (not being forced to mentor), you want entry-level staff members that are enthusiastic about learning from senior staff members.
5.    Look for team members committed to the team goal
There is sometimes the stereotype that millennials are self-serving or lazy. Forget that stereotype! Interesting and challenging engineering work can be inspiring and highly motivating. Look for those younger engineers with energy and enthusiasm. They are out there and with the right support and leadership, those young engineers will become committed to company and project team goals.


Driving a Holistic Culture
Notice the top five traits are nearly identical for both age groups? This is no accident. As engineering managers, we have the power and responsibility to build the right team. Look for those competent staff members who transcend the stereotypes. As a leader, strike down hallway or meeting banter that falls into age stereo typing. It is not allowed. Period. With right mix of multi-generational staff, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

 

IPS MitchMitch is the President and Cofounder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a leading product design and development firm.  He honed his deep knowledge of product design on the strength of a 30-year career with companies that manufacture commercially successful products for the consumer, industrial, and DoD markets. Prior to launching IPS, Mitch was VP of Engineering at Symbol Technologies. Always espousing a hands-on approach to design, he holds a portfolio of numerous United States and international patents.  Mitch holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Hofstra University, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

 

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