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Final Thoughts: Millennials Are ‘Engineering: The Next Generation’

Robert Schickel on August 16, 2017 - in Articles, Column

Many members of my generation think we Baby Boomers are the greatest generation. After all, we protested against wars, fought for civil rights, and invented rock and roll. But we also produced this next generation of people.

I am a Baby Boomer, and our generation currently is handing over the workplace to the Millennials. I recently heard that 1/3 of my generation already has retired, and the rest of us are not far behind. And because there are so many of us, there are going to be a lot of job openings in the near future that need to be filled by younger people (or robots/computers). It’s now the role of Baby Boomers to pass on what we think is important and let the new generation use whatever they choose of that advice.

How Are Millennials Different?

In trying to determine the age range that’s defined for Millennials, I found inconsistencies. The earliest birth dates range from 1976-1982, and the latest birth dates range from 1990-2004. So trying to characterize Millennials by age isn’t exactly clear, but, in general, Millennials are people in the workforce younger than 40.

I searched the internet for “Millennials in the workplace,” and the first four results were offers of seminars and training classes in how to “deal” with Millennials. Really? Most of us know the characteristics that many writers have placed on Millennials. They want to see a path for personal growth and promotion. They want to be a part of the decision-making process. They want coaches and mentors, not bosses. They want more-flexible work conditions. They want to help move the company forward.

I looked back at some interview questions I asked through the years:

• Where do you see yourself in five years?

• What do you personally bring to this organization?

• What do you want out of this job?

And the answers were always pretty similar:

• In five years, I want to be a project manager or promoted to a senior level … (or something like that).

• I bring unique technical abilities/great education/experience and good communication skills.

• I want my job to be rewarding financially and personally, and I want to make a positive impact in this company.

These are answers that I gave when I was being interviewed, and answers I heard when I was hiring.

Mostly Similar; A Few Differences

Similar questions are asked today, and the answers haven’t changed much. Millennials want to be recognized and promoted, just as my generation wanted. They believe they bring qualities and abilities that are valuable to the company, but with new and better technology. Millennials want to be an integral part of the business and still be able to live a comfortable personal life outside the office.

Today we place more emphasis on being aware of social and environmental issues, but engineers have always understood that part of our role is to create a better world for future generations. There’s certainly more interest in diversity in workplaces, although those initiatives started a while ago.

The ability to better manage work and personal life is a high priority, resulting in variable work hours and working from home. This also was a priority for me as soon as I had children. My first encounter with “flextime” was in the early 1980s, when we introduced this option at the Indiana Department of Highways. It was somewhat limited, but it was a start.

One characteristic that is different is the more-positive approach to working with managers and supervisors, as opposed to working for managers, as we did. When I started working, I felt I needed to “do what the boss said,” and, when I became a supervisor, I expected the same of those who worked for me. Today, Millennials do not work for you, they work with you.

I’m not convinced that we need seminars and classes and instructions on how to “deal” with Millennials. Millennials have wonderful, creative minds and great priorities, and just want to be guided to become the best they can.

We need to realize that Millennials aren’t that different from Baby Boomers at that age—we’re just older now. In other words, my generation owes it to Millennials to do exactly what the generation before Baby Boomers did. It may seem difficult to hand over leadership and control to a new generation, but, rest assured, the workplace will be in good hands (along with their smartphones).

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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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