The Great Divide

generations
istock / Ljupco

The current generational divide was predictable, when it comes to thinking about technology and its role in contracting firms. While the older generations may see smartphones or other devices as a source of distraction, younger people understand that these technologies are a way to streamline work, keep employees connected and enable them to solve problems in real time. The world has gone digital, and digitization is part of the growth formula for electrical contracting firms.

According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, “The Whys and Hows of Generations Research,” one thing is clear: today’s children and teens will likely be shaped by different influences and forces than the generations that preceded it.

Here we are in 2020 with a contracting industry in a generational divide, and we’re figuring out how to use it to our advantage. The stereotype is that Gen Z people think differently, are app-driven and accustomed to things happening quickly—and with new technology.

“A typical situation is that a family or owner has grown the business to a certain level, and they’ve built up relationships [by] word of mouth and referrals, and all those things that are cornerstones of any successful business really,” said Joe Hughes, owner of the Asbury Park, N.J.-based Contractor Dynamics, a firm that helps contractors of all types grow.

“Then the new generation comes in and they don’t necessarily have those one-on-one personal relationships with the people in the market because it’s their father who had the relationships or their uncle or the previous generation who had those relationships.”

What they do have is technology, and younger generations are using it to change the way business is done.

“Everyone is on this device right here,” Hughes said, gesturing to his iPhone. It symbolizes a common issue his consultancy sees in helping contractors bridge the gap between the generations.

Is the past prologue?

Electrical contractors are slowly, but surely, figuring out how to incorporate working with younger people. For many firms, it isn’t the first time they’ve had to adjust to differences. Generational divides have existed and persisted through depressions, world wars, the radical ‘60s and ‘70s and the blossoming of our digital age.

People are trading in pen-and-paper notetaking for smartphones and have information at the tips of their fingers.

Engler Electric Inc., a Utica, N.Y.-based electrical contractor has been family-owned and operated since 1924. Within the company’s near century, it has observed the entire evolution of gen-
erational change.

In 1948, J. Howard Bruce returned from Pearl Harbor, where he had helped repair war-damaged ships as a civilian electrician, to start an electrical contracting firm. Bruce & Merrilees, New Castle, Pa., is still family-owned and operated by with the third generation of Bruce family members. Think of all the change it has endured.

The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 stated, “Notwithstanding current global economic expansion and opportunity, millennials and Generation Z are expressing uneasiness and pessimism—about their careers, their lives in general, and the world around them. They appear to be struggling to find their safe havens, their beacons of trust. As a result, these younger, especially unsettled generations are instigating their own brand of disruption, both inadvertently and intentionally.”

However, lineage can be helpful rather than an impedance of any kind. In a business that has spanned the generations, the family lineage is an asset. Gary Ackerman is the second-generation owner of Gaudin Motor Co. in Las Vegas. For Ackerman, his heritage is a matter of pride. The generational divide, when positioned strategically, shows a company’s strength and how all members of the family have learned from each other through the years and across the generations.

The multigenerational job site

Gaudin’s brand of disruption brings a new wind onto the job site. They are eager to embrace digital tools and use their smartphones to do more than communicate. They look up safety regulations, take photos of a product tag and teach others how to retrieve and upload to the cloud. They are creatures of new habits and new thinking. The younger generation foreshadows a new dawn of workers to help the legacy of their firm compete and thrive.

About the Author

Jim Romeo

Freelance Writer

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at www.JimRomeo.net.

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