As a well acclimatized Boomer, I recently had a friendly debate with my learned friend Terry D’Silva, an engineer, high-tech business owner, researcher and educator at Lambton College, about the challenges posed by Millennials in a workplace. Having recently attended a seminar on Elders in the Workforce, I felt pretty confident that we Boomers had a lot to teach the up and coming Millennials about the effective use of the soft skills like fostering collaboration, listening attentively to others and the nature of work requiring mutual reciprocity, not to mention that some knowledge is best learned in the process of work, not from books or the Internet!
Boomers are staying in the workforce longer, retiring about 4 years later than a dozen years ago, now closer to age 65 and with 1 in 4 workers being 55 or older in the workforce in Lambton County, we still significantly influence the workplace, but agreeably, not for long! Terry countered with the following position:
Terry: Although Millennials may lack experience and some soft skills, they bring a wealth of talent, creativity, digital skills and social media savvy which come naturally to them, as they have cut their teeth in the Information and Internet Age. Anybody who has seen the dexterity and proficiency of youth with their tiny cell phones will agree that they are masters of leveraging modern technology. They are connected to each other, the world, Google and a plethora of other digital resources in a way that few Boomers achieve.
Social media influences the world – positively or negatively. The politics of nations, the rise and fall of companies, public opinion and sometimes even personal freedoms are driven through social media. As they say, the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, making youth the kings in today’s technology world! Thus, we must develop opportunities and programs which are intergenerational, in order to take advantage of such talent.
Fine, I said, but when it comes to adjusting to 2 or 3 or even sometimes 4 different generations of persons having to work productively in a common environment, I have to believe that Millennials are the least equipped for life’s school of hard knocks. It seems to me that the toughness required to persevere through demanding projects with tight timelines and expectations is simply not as resident within the younger folks that I have encountered in the workplace.
Often the Millennials have been pampered by their parents, given all their hearts desires which sometimes stifles innovation, curiosity and exploration. That being said, any Millennial who has gone to College or University and completed a Co-op or Internship successfully, knows what it is to work hard, be organized and to work in teams. Some of them have had to work multiple jobs to pay for their education – as most foreign students here do.
I don’t mean to present myself as being too entrenched in my position that Boomers are better equipped to face off to the challenges our global economy presents for the future of work. In fact, my own children can be counted among Millennials and I want them to achieve and prosper. That’s when Terry’s well-reasoned take on the future of work, acquired from his broad reading, the experience of his change adept industry and his time as an educator caught me by surprise. When he presented to me how he sees tomorrow’s workplace, I quickly realized how very much we should embrace partnering with Millennials, Digitals (the generation following the Millennials) and we Boomers to ensure we properly engage the hard skills that our Millennials and Digitals possess.
Without being too pessimistic, the Millennials too, have challenges for their future – in the spectre of Machine Automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Just as cars overtook the horse and buggy, surely but steadily, so will Automation and AI overtake jobs that are to-date deemed irreplaceable. Not just on the factory floor, but lawyers, doctors and architects, artists and poets are all destined to be shunted out by AI in some form or fashion – unless we can form a symbiotic synergy between humans and machines to leverage the best of all worlds! One area that is yet safe for us humans is in Caregiving. Who wants to be tucked into bed by a robot?
Terry had even more to say about the future of work and where he sees opportunities in this post-human resource-dependent age. A great many of us will continue to be needed to frame and supervise the collaborative work done by people, machines and AI. We have some of the best and brightest among us at the College, shaping the minds of those who will determine the future – a fascinating if daunting task that happily promises to produce graduates able to harvest the strengths to be found in a multi-generational workplace.