It seems that every generation despairs at the state of the next generation. Whether it was the Silent Generation who fought World II and looked aghast at the spectacle of the Baby Boomers at Woodstock or the Baby Boomers looking perplexed at Generation X and our new-fangled video games and the internet. The previous generations all seem to be collectively deriding the millennials for being digital natives stuck to their smartphones and receiving participation trophies. It seems to be a national pastime to regard the previous generation as staid and stuck in their ways. We also seem to relish in regarding the subsequent generation as lazy, soft, and lacking sufficient motivation. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, this seems to be the natural course of things.

We have all shared various challenges over the past 2 years. Among the most common that come up in my conversations with NARSA/IDEA members are rising shipping costs, supply chain disruptions, and rapidly increasing commodity prices.  However, the number one complaint is finding qualified people to work. Various reasons are spoken about from generous unemployment benefits to people just not wanting to work. Inevitably, I hear that the millennials are somehow not nearly as effective and hardworking as “we” were. My company is in the same boat, and we have really struggled to find qualified personnel that know how to work with their hands. We have lately been successful in bringing on some young hires who have done well and have promising futures in our company.

At a meeting a few months ago with my management team, I asked why they thought we were having trouble finding people to fill our production positions. I constantly heard about the unemployment benefits being the main reason. However, as I have gotten older, I have tried to not let myself get too bent out of shape about something I can’t control, least of all the federal government. I was up one night contemplating this issue we were having in filling positions when it occurred to me that the existence of this program was essentially a massive workforce job interview. While everyone had various reasons for staying home, I realized that those that did want to work and were actively seeking employment were the types of employees who did not feel content to stay home and felt motivated to work. They were not thinking about the short-term gain but longer-term opportunities. This is precisely the type of people we want at our company.

Traditionally, we’ve tried to hire employees with a lot more experience. Under the present circumstances, this has been a tall order. We immediately decided to contact every tech school in the area as well as leverage our greatest resource, our own employees. We set up a bonus for current employees who bring in new hires that last through our probationary period. We slowly started getting new hires and integrating them into our team and culture. Nearly all were young millennials and the results have been extremely encouraging. Most had little relevant experience but were eager to learn.  Our production manager started rotating them through various work stations. They were not intimidated by technology and were happy to try different tasks. We even found that a few had a knack for welding and were quickly moved into that department for further training. While a new broom always sweeps clean, our results so far have been encouraging.

As anyone in our line of work can attest to, many of our traditional radiator technicians with experience are getting older. There is no ready pool of radiator and DPF technicians to replace them. As business owners, we need to be creative in attracting talent to our organizations and retaining them. The trend over the last few decades has been to regard technical schools and apprenticeships as somehow second best to college and has left the US with a shortage of people that can work with their hands. Some of the most successful people I know in this industry have come through the technical school track. But all is not lost.
“There is no ready pool of radiator and DPF technicians to replace
them. As business owners, we need to be creative in attracting
talent to our organizations and retaining them.”

Bobby Duran, NARSA/IDEA President
Just like the previous generations who regarded the next generation as hopeless and doomed to a life of sloth, we can easily fall into the trap that somehow the next generation will not be able to step up to the challenge. As business owners, we need to figure out how best to attract, train and integrate the newest generations into our organizations. Being unable to adapt to this new reality will ensure that businesses will continue to struggle and ultimately affect growth and viability of a company. Extremely successful and dynamic companies are being run by a new generation who, as is natural, think differently than us.  Our industry must learn how to embrace and capitalize on the talent that the next generation brings.

I have a 6-year-old, and his classroom experience is significantly different from what I remember. Simply completing a homework assignment requires a hodgepodge of acronyms and apps. The classroom of today is quite unrecognizable from the classroom I was accustomed to. I imagine in the future Millennials will be speaking about how much harder school was for them and how Gen Z are lazy and soft. They will complain that “Back in my day, we didn’t have virtual reality group learning. We had to use zoom!” Then they will hire them.