When I decided to write an article about the difficulties contractors are having hiring good people, I had no idea what I was getting into. Once again, I had picked a subject with passionate people on both sides of the table. In this case, the millennial generation was on one side; older employers were on the other.
I got the idea to write about this topic because electrical contractors from all over the nation tell me they can’t find people who are willing to do a reasonable job for a realistic wage, and they blame it on the bad attitudes of millennials, also known as “Generation Y.”
Defining a generation
Are millennials actually spoiled, entitled, selfish, lazy, clueless, coddled, hypersensitive, closed-minded, unfocused, narcissistic, self-obsessed, untrainable, unrealistic, uninformed, noncollaborating, nonproductive, high-maintenance, rude, disconnected and oversensitive?
Or are they creative, entrepreneurial, innovative, tech-savvy, diverse, socially aware, civic- and open-minded, confident, team-oriented, connected, liberal, and self-expressive? It’s possible they are all of the above.
Since I knew very little about Generation Y, I did a lot of research for this column. With a few exceptions, articles written by millennials praise them, while articles by older writers criticize them. A unique article, “Millennials Are the Worst … Unless They’re The Best,” written by Chris Myers, a millennial, discusses how the author changed his view of his generation after starting his own business. The traits he found reasonable before starting his business became unacceptable.
Even though the adjectives I used above are generalizations, they apply to enough of Generation Y to make them stick. According to a recent study by Red Brick Research, 80 percent of hiring managers claim their millennial employees display narcissistic tendencies. Some of the most frequent complaints I’ve heard are about the demands for flexible hours, management positions and high starting salaries. Millennials also expect employers to change business operations to meet their requirements.
The demand for flexible hours really caught my attention. Our industry is very regimented when it comes to working hours, particularly in the field, and office workers need to be available to support the field. Project managers should be around when they are needed, which is during job-site hours. I can’t imagine a change to the current working hours used for construction. I’m sure millennials would say that’s because, as Myers writes, I am one of those “relics from another time, painfully stuck in their antiquated ways.”
Estimating could be more flexible. Even I, a baby boomer, have often wanted a more flexible work schedule and the choice to work from home some days. However, if I am working odd hours, my customers and vendors are not, which creates problems.
Another author, Louis Efron, penned “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Work for You.” In this article, he takes a strong position, stating that employers will have to change to meet the standards of millennials. This tactic seems to work at some technology firms, such as LinkedIn. Efron points out that one of LinkedIn’s core values is “Act like an owner.” The company culture includes: “Unlimited vacation in line with business needs; ‘inDays,’ one Friday a month where employees can work on personal projects; $5,000 a year for professional education; a platform called ‘Incubator’ that allows employees to pitch ideas to executives; an opportunity to compete for up to a $10,000 donation to an employee’s favorite charity or to start their own; and personal grants to allow opportunities to be involved in independent charity work.”
Could this work in the highly structured world of construction?
I encourage you to check out Myers’ and Efron’s articles. Of the many I read, I kept coming back to these two. Even though Efron is one-sided, he has a lot of interesting information to pass on. Myers writes about both sides of the issue, discussing the potential challenges and rewards when dealing with millennials. Myers believes making management-style changes to attract Generation Y would benefit your company. Efron thinks that a complete overhaul is required if your company is to survive.
At this point, I still don’t see how many of this generation’s standards could ever work in our industry. However, in an effort to be a problem-solver, I will continue researching this topic and provide an update next month.