The question of how the hazardous pipeline industry copes with the needs of transferring knowledge and experience from one generation of employees to their successors remains, to a great extent, unanswered. Clearly this is bound-up with the ways that generations learn and have been taught to learn.
A useful starting point for this discussion might be to quote a summary of the characteristics of each current generation prepared by Sarah Cook, Managing Director of the leadership and change management specialist: The Stairway Consultancy.
Ms Cook writes that: Baby Boomers (1946–1964) are, for example, technologically familiar with emails and their PCs, but are less likely to be busy with electronic social networking in the manner of younger generations. They prefer to work face-to-face and are receptive to classroom learning for soft skills.
Generation X (1965–1976) are sceptical and at times challenging, but hungry for knowledge and willing to seek plenty of feedback. They prefer on-the-job learning.
Generation Y (1977–1999), also known as ‘Millennials’, want to work collaboratively across communities with ready access to technologies, which they will see as embedded in everything they do. They favour learning whilst doing, with regular coaching and feedback.
Generation Z (born after 2000) are at the entry point of the workforce and are highly networked and tech aware.
In their paper, presented at the Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management Conference in 2017, Rau and Rau1 pointed out that there has been much concern over the last ten years that the retirement of Baby Boomers would lead to a gap in leadership and knowledge. As it turns out, because much of this demographic has delayed retirement, they have had time to mentor their Gen X and Millennial juniors and have given Millennials time to mature into leadership positions.
The oldest members of the Millennial generation are now in their mid-thirties. Many are in middle management and even senior leadership positions, and they are doing well. Statistics show that 62 per cent of Millennials around the world are managing the work of others.
The fastest growing segment of the workforce is made up of those born 1977 and later, so there is a growing ‘youth bubble’ at the younger end of the spectrum. In North America, the youth bubble in the workforce is expanding much faster than in recent years because employers are beginning to hire new young workers after several years of hiring freezes resulting from the economic crisis in 2008.
By 2020, Millennials will make up approximately 50 per cent of the US workforce and it is anticipated that Gen Z will comprise over 20 per cent. The rising global youth tide will bring to the workplace extremely different norms, values, attitudes, expectations and behaviour.
In many ways, the North American workplace of 2016 is dramatically different from the workplace of 2000, Rau and Rau continue. These changes can manifest themselves as generational conflict in the workplace.
Organisations that want to reduce generational tensions within their workplace teams must increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of different workplace styles. They must also be aware of the differences in what the workplace was in the past compared to the workplace of the future, which is now.
The authors conclude by writing that organisations who continue to “do things like we’ve always done because that’s what has worked for us” will be left in the dust of companies who recruit, train and retain talented employees through their understanding of each generation’s diverse skills, perspectives, mindsets and their ability to embrace the needs of all generations and individuals.
Organisational leadership will need to shift the culture to initiate, grow and sustain change. In terms of the hazardous pipeline industry, this is an issue to which significant attention must be given.
1 J. Rau and J. Rau, 2017. Closing the generational gap. Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management Conference, Houston, TX, USA, 1–2 March.