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Home / Central Penn Business Journal: Preparing for the next generational shift in the workforce


Dawn Spaar, director of adult and professional studies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, recently wrote on generational differences in the workforce for Central Pennsylvania Business Journal.  Her article is below.  

For years I’ve been fascinated with generational differences and how we communicate, manage and fit into each other’s work lives.

As a baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964), I work with a set of skills and expectations indicative of my generation: education plus work equals personal enrichment; hardworking; on a management track, competitive; and hoping to accomplish great feats. Realistically, we boomers will soon or have already retired; we are being replaced by millennials and Generation Z workers — people born between 1996-2012 — but do we all know how to transition and work effectively together?

As more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce, are we prepared? Too often I hear, from Boomers and Gen X-ers, that the younger generations don’t have our work ethic or skill sets. I propose they have their own set of skills and work ethic and that we can learn from them. Research informs us that Gen Z and millennials prefer a corporate office as opposed to a home office; want to communicate with co-workers in person; believe communication is the most important quality of a leader; desire work flexibility — specifically the benefit of training and development; and embrace new technologies, according to a global survey by Future Workplace and Randstad.

There is a common denominator that brings us all together: communication. Gen Z and millennials prefer face-to-face communication over texts and emails by a wide majority, followed by email, phone and instant messaging. Communication is their most desired quality in a leader, outranking honesty, supportiveness, confidence and approachability. These cohorts embrace new technologies beyond social media; for instance, wearables, virtual reality robotics, augmented reality and MOOCs (standing for massive open, online courses) are part of their everyday language. Not many boomers can say this.

To prepare top managers and human resources departments for these generational shifts, I suggest two priorities: communication and life-long education.

From the research I’ve read, the most important quality to Gen Z and millennials in the workforce is communication. Let’s find both new and established ways to enhance our communication processes. There are numerous ways to build these bridges and keep a 360-degree flow of communication.

But why life-long education? One of my favorite sayings is, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got”; in others words, if you don’t like the current outcome or situation, try something different on the front end. Consider new ideas, skills and technologies through training and continued education. As an example, I am not a marketer but I know the landscape of traditional marketing has shifted to digital marketing; how many of us are skilled or educated to successfully make this shift? I know I had to learn new skills, I assume others will, too.

As the director of adult and professional studies at Harrisburg University, I have talked to business managers and individuals from all generational cohorts who want to transition their processes and staff to better manage and market in today’s digital world. There is no age limit on completing training or education.

Millennials and Gen Z are the new workforce, not just of tomorrow but of today. We can maximize our varied generational cohorts’ strengths for enhanced transition. I suggest we start with the basics: communication and education.

Dawn Spaar is director of adult and professional studies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.


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