Transitioning Your Workforce: Are You Up to the Challenges?

One of the major challenges for contractors today is developing their workforce to ensure a smooth transition as journeymen retire and a new generation of technicians takes over. In this boom economy, it has become especially difficult to find people who want to join the electrical construction profession, or any trade for that matter.

In addition, this new generation possesses different motivations than previous generations, and they demand a defined work-life balance.

More than likely, you are a baby boomer nearing or having reached retirement age. Generation X stands next in line for management positions. However, Gen X has fewer individuals available to work. That means millennials—generally defined as those born between 1980 and 2000—will need proper training to assume the positions available in project and general management.

Typically, millennials have more interest in obtaining a college degree than entering the trades. A 2015 study from Deloitte’s Issues by the Numbers shows college enrollment rate among millennials in all age groups has risen higher than previous generations. Graduation rates have also increased, with 39.4 percent of those starting at a four-year institution in 2007 graduating in four years and 59.4 percent graduating within six years.

The same study shows that “many millennials are choosing to major in business (21.7 percent), social science and history (10.5 percent), health professions (7.5 percent), and visual and performing arts (5.6 percent).” You may need to change the way you operate today to help convince the next generation that your company is one they want to help grow and that meets their defined goals of focusing on “people and purpose.”

Much has been said about millennials and their lack of job loyalty. According to the Deloitte report, “When we look at hard numbers, however, we find that millennials’ rate of job change is not substantially different from that of prior generations.”

Expecting millennials to remain at least as loyal as Gen-Xers offers good news for those who need long-term employees to grow and improve with job experience.

The report, by Patricia Buckley, Peter Viechnicki and Akrur Barua, gives the following advice: “Instead of believing the myth that millennials are fundamentally harder to recruit, engage, and retain than other generations, organizations can leverage a more sophisticated understanding of millennials to improve performance on key workforce indicators. Key to improving the relationship between an organization and its millennial workers is to treat them, not as a homogeneous block, but as a set of differentiated segments defined by their life milestones. Employers’ efforts to forge better and longer-lasting bonds with millennials should recognize and focus on the particular challenges they face in achieving these milestones.”

It makes sense for employers to craft training programs aimed at engaging this segment of the workforce. This generation has grown up with a smartphone in their hands. The old, “read the code and take an exam” method isn’t going to cut it. You should include digital resources, such as online training followed by hands-on experience.

For millennials, social media is a honed skill. They came of age while this technology blossomed. That said, there will always exist, in every generation, a group of people who love working with their hands. And, although they may remain conversant in social media and computers, they still want to see something physical they can point to and say, “I helped make that!”

Use the technology skills that millennials have developed to your advantage. Start using digital tablets to take and process work orders. Also, when you receive recommendations from your tech savvy employees, listen to them!

Institute acceptance of online training to increase awareness of the right way to install a fire alarm system and invest in training millennial employees to program the fire alarm systems. The millennials will take to programming like a fish to water.

In other words, you must do more than simply offer employment to the younger generations. You need to capitalize on what the younger generations bring to the table. While I have focused on the millennials here, don’t forget that the next generation, roughly those born between 2000 and 2020—labeled “Generation Z”—present the newest focus. And, this latest generation learned how to swipe an iPad before they could talk!

The biggest workforce-planning challenges are organizational design and learning development. Others are recruiting, retention, compensation and benefits.

One other factor to note: the new generations expect you to provide the tools they know the market has available, to allow them to complete their work in the most efficient manner. Obviously, providing such tools offers a wise business decision in any case!

You must remember that bemoaning the differences between your generation and the newer ones represents a serious waste of time. Instead, you must embrace those differences and use them for all to benefit by workers choosing our trade. Of course, you need to keep in mind that if you don’t react positively to the new generations and their needs to succeed in the electrical profession, your competitor will.

The processes will have to change. Couple that with the fact these changes affect the business itself. In making installations, you have become less reliant on multiple conductor cables (if any at all) and you can see the necessity to take some time and rethink how you will attract the next generations to our important field.

All generations possess the same basic needs, wants and desires. But, the new generations also expect to tackle problems the best way they know how and will expect you to allow them to follow through on those judgment calls.

The question: Are you prepared to follow through on the challenges in order to transition your workforce?

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He...

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