Merging The Generation Gap

Ask any business owner, executive or manager about their most powerful asset. The answer will likely be: our people.

Without question, this holds true for construction professionals.  Just like any workplace, our culture, relationships, and talents are critical for success.  Although construction has a unique set of challenges in the face of the rapidly-changing technological aspect of our society, the people in our industry will make all the difference when it comes to bridging this gap.

We’ll start with what we know: our people are our strongest asset.  Visit a construction site, and you’ll likely hear about the brotherhood that exists between every person working on that project.  And just like the people themselves, these close relationships – which have always been at the core of construction – are the key to getting our industry to embrace new technologies and ways of thinking that can benefit the individual worker, the project and the company.  

For example, in many other industries, some employers may assume they have a disaster on their hands when two workers separated by generations work closely together.  But the beauty of the construction industry is what sets it apart: despite the multi-generational makeup of construction job sites and projects, every person – from specialized labor roles up through management – is truly dedicated to helping one another succeed.

Let’s consider the makeup of our current workforce.  Our longest-serving employees are Baby Boomers, who display an admirable post-WWII ethic, specialized skill sets, and dedication to management and professionalism, but are also slow to adopt new technology.  (Not to mention that Boomers are retiring in droves, leaving a staggering 75 percent of skilled worker positions open, and contributing to the industry’s labor shortage).  On the other end of the spectrum, Millennials are coming into play.  They grew up on computers and technology, and are enthusiastic with innovation and visions of the future.  Then in the middle, you have Generation X. Gen Xers, born between 1961 and 1981, tend to be revenue generators and relationship builders who thrive with praise and feedback. 

It seems at odds, doesn’t it?  Three unique skill sets held by generations decades apart, existing within a single job site.  But Boomers can benefit with the adoption of technology, and younger generations can certainly learn all there is to know about professionalism and work ethic from their older colleagues.  Here is the recipe for success: management and companies must invest in their people to create a winning culture where all generations have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of all generations, support generational cross-training and leadership, and work together to create synergy.

When combined with investing in technology, this cross-training approach will help address the labor shortage facing the industry by attracting talent – from all generations. Organizations that change with the times serve as industry thought leaders, with the unique ability to work successfully across all generations.  

Of course, everything is always more challenging in practice than in theory, but it becomes simpler as soon as we start with our people.  It will open them up to considering new technologies and professional techniques, as they work closely together and begin to talk across generations.  Once this happens, Millennials may find themselves with a Boomer willing to try new technology, and younger colleagues eager to show how a technology can provide a legitimate shortcut that still gets the work done in an optimal fashion.

Take, for example, the smartphone –  85 percent of adults in the U.S. own one, but only 35 percent of workers use their smartphones on-site for business needs.  For the innovative construction company, these devices are an incomparably powerful asset that is just beginning to be tapped. 

One primary way to use smartphones in the field is to leverage the power of voice. The power of voice means simply leveraging the effectiveness of voices, combined with technology, to increase productivity, efficiency and accuracy. 

Voice-driven technology applications have been around for years. In the past, such software has been unpredictable and challenging. But today, the technology has advanced to become more user-friendly, reliable, and widely available. And the benefits to voice- driven technology include productivity, accuracy, and time-savings for your team. 

Employees of all generations can use the power of voice for dramatically-improved, more robust documentation by harnessing this technology for reporting.

Each generation can now see the benefit of reporting incidents in real-time, versus the old days of waiting and calling between different locations.  With technologies on the market today, construction teams are able to report using simply their phone and their voice. Speaking notes into any smartphone, adding photos or videos, and generating professional daily reports. Such software also allows safety issues to be reported and escalated, ensuring action can be taken – all in real time.  

Beyond safety, technology now available in our industry can help reduce risk, thereby significantly reducing the occurrence of litigation and disputes.  Incidents can be reported as they happen, and information mobility means that all relevant team members are immediately connected on devices to manage the crisis as it unfolds.

In this industry, we are privileged to have a workforce made of people who love to help one another.  As technology becomes more and more a part of everyday industry life, leveraging the generational synergies by implementing collaboration will be of unparalleled importance for successful technology implementation.  And regardless of whether an employee stays at a company for decades or moves on, the seed has been planted: success is defined by investing in your people and by giving your co-worker bankable assets and talents they can use throughout their lives.  In our industry, our people make sure to always do the right thing for colleagues, and always take the extra time to help one another.  That’s what this brotherhood is all about.