The Silent Generation Meets Generation Y: How to Manage a Four Generation Workforce with Panache – Part 2

Four Generations in the workforce

Figure 1 illustrates the numbers of each of the four generations currently represented in the workforce.  The four groups are: Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y.  Generation Y represents the largest number of workers in the workforce, with even greater numbers than the large Boomer representation.   By examining different generational perceptions, the most obvious question from each cohort about the other is, “What are they thinking?” The only way to really arrive at an answer is to examine what the expectations are from each cohort.  Every generation has different expectations and employers know what has shaped many of the experiences and expectations for traditionalists, Boomer, and even Gen X.  Companies are still trying to figure out what the expectations are of Gen Y, and this will be something companies will need to keep working on for some time.   

Shifts in Labor Force Comparison

Management of human assets is the priority right now, according to Tom Casey.  Companies that think they can manage the expectations of four cohorts using a homogenous model are in for a shock.  It is time to throw out the one size fits all model of talent management and embrace a more flexible model approach that is sensitive to each cohort.             
Figure 2 is a graphical representation of different generations of workers over a span of 60 years (1970- 2030).  The graph shows that traditionalist (mature) workers are going to be around for a while and Boomers are going to be around for quite a while longer.  A multi-generational workforce exists now and companies must think about the four cohort groups and their expectations in order to keep them in the workforce and productive.  “If you aren’t struggling to get good people, or people at all, you will be,” states Casey.  Those who reside in the C-suite can no longer get by with “happy talk” in response to human capital management.  The homogeneous human capital management model of the past simply will not work with such diverse cohorts in the workforce – flexibility needs to be “burned in” to the human capital management model.   

Ethnic & Racial Diversity

The bar chart in Figure 3 represents the two major ethnic minorities in the U.S. and their representation across each of the four generational cohorts.  Casey states, “diversity in the workforce is not just a number, it is a reality; companies have been paying lip service to diversity in the workplace for years.”  Just how diverse the U.S. population is can be illustrated by what’s happening in the current presidential elections.  For the first time in history, the Democratic Party is likely to nominate a woman or a person of color as the Democratic nominee.  It is time to recognize that the U.S. is a very diverse nation and that diversity in the workplace is a topic of great importance.               

Increasing Educational Achievement

The proportion of college graduates in the United States is increasing. However, the percent of graduates as compared to overall population is problematic. Consider the following statistics: 

  • Currently between 25-30% of the U.S. population attains a college degree.
  • In the future two-thirds (66%) of all new jobs created will want college grads to fill them.

 It is not difficult to see the problem here for employers.  Not only will there be a shortfall in the number of college graduates to meet demands, but there is also going to be a severe shortage of graduates with “requisite skills.”  The ramifications of the “skills shortfall” are already being felt by companies.  Tom Casey warns that HR professionals need to look at this issue directly and acknowledge that their companies will need to get focused on education.  Companies will need to fill a larger education role in teaching skills to employees through training and development.  Casey points out that companies of any size “will need to get serious about training and development – you are in the education business.”  “Please do not underestimate the contribution that doing this well will contribute to your employee brand”.  

Greater Responsibilities in the Workplace

In addition to a deficit of skilled, educated employees in the workforce, companies are now dealing with the challenge of employee commitment. Statistics show that for both male and female workers, there is a decline in the level of responsibility that workers want to take on in their careers. Boomers joined the workforce with the expectation of getting more responsibility and moving up the career ladder. “It was the reason we went to work,” says Casey.  Attitudes about allegiance to work started to change with Gen X workers and now that Gen Y’s have entered the workforce, the change is even more dramatic.  Taking on more responsibility is a “huge” issue for Gen Y workers; for them it is all about flexibility.  Restlessness and a desire for mobility are more important to Gen Y.  Companies are figuring out that they must respond to this new paradigm and that the generation that “lived to work” is a thing of the past.  As companies scramble to find numbers of workers with requisite skills set, flexibility will become part of the talent model; figuring out just how much flexibility they can “burn in” to their organizations is a direct response to the changing expectations of young workers.  Work and career flexibility are “non negotiable” for many millennials.   

Growing Shortage of Workers in the U.S.

According to a 2005 Labor Force report, a projected shortfall in workers is imminent in the U.S.  It won’t just be the U.S. that will struggle to find skilled workers; developing countries like India will also face shortages. The more specialized the skill set that is needed, the more difficult it will be for companies to attract workers with appropriate skills. Demographics, skills and education are all factors that will contribute to the labor shortages which will have differing impacts by industry segment.  Figure 4 illustrates the continuing trend of worker shortages by year.                


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