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It’s no secret that the trucking industry is facing a driver shortage of epic proportions. While the demand for driver talent continues to rise, Baby Boomers are nearing retirement and leaving the industry, and there is a dearth of new blood coming into the field. Part of the problem is that the culture in American education values a four-year degree over vocational training. But, as Chad Kopitzke, founder of NeXtGen Advantage shared with us in a recent episode of Recruit & Retain Podcast, the issue is much more complicated.

Many businesses, and especially those in the trucking industry, have had trouble finding and attracting the right talent to fill their needs.  Many still wonder what makes the millennial generation different from those who have come before, and why working with them calls for such radical change in the way businesses have traditionally operated. Simply put, the generation born between 1980 and 2000 has grown up in an unprecedented technological landscape. They are digital natives who are accustomed to connecting with all types of people via the internet and social media. Lines and boundaries to entry have become fuzzy, and have even dissolved, allowing anyone to truly become anything in a way that has not existed before. Add to that the fact that this generation is the largest in modern history. No wonder a revolution is taking place in the way businesses operate.

As millennials begin to eclipse Boomers and Gen Xers in the workforce, traditional hierarchical structures and ways of communicating within businesses must evolve to keep up with the changing expectations of younger workers.  As a member of Gen X, Kopitzke has found himself placed squarely between Boomers and Millennials, giving him a unique business perspective.

Having come up in his career with the mentorship of experienced Boomers, Kopitzke has learned to “speak their language,” but he has also worked placing over 750 Millennial interns with approximately 150 organizations. In essence, Kopitzke’s experience has allowed him to act as a bridge between the two generations, helping each understand and work effectively with the other. As he puts it, “It’s about cultural transformation, [and] engagement across all the generations. Once we start to understand the foundation of each of the generations, we can figure out how to work across that.”

Eight Best Practices to Engage Across Generations

Plant and Feed Interest in the Industry

Truck driving careers are unique in that, while it’s important to let young people know that drivers are in demand, potential future drivers cannot actually obtain a CDL license until the age of 21. That’s why, in order to create interest in career-seeking young people who do not intend to pursue a four-year degree, the trucking industry must promote itself in such a way that initially plants a seed in the mind of that 17-18-year-old kid. There must also be frequent promotion that feeds the seed, so it continues to grow that interest. Finally, the industry must find innovative ways to channel that interest in a way that will make that young person ready to begin a driving career once they reach the age of 21.

Map Out a Sense of Purpose

Most Boomers and Gen Xers were told that the most important part of a job is stability, whereas Millennials have been told it’s all about finding fulfillment. For this reason, Millennials shy away from work they consider repetitive, mundane, or meaningless. Therefore, it is important that employers map out a sense of purpose for perspective or onboarding employees. They must explain how the position they are trying to fill fits into the bigger picture, and why the position is essential to the success of the company.

As Kopitzke puts it, “If trucks completely stopped [running], our economy stops.  I got to thinking, ‘Well, what’s the message [to prospective drivers]?’ They’re like the lifeblood of our country—they keep it flowing. There’s a message there of why you’re driving this truck or why you’re welding this piece of metal together. It’s just a matter of telling people why they’re doing it, and this generation cares about that.”

Show Perspective Employees “You Are Here” With Meaningful Onboarding

Far too often, companies neglect creating a meaningful onboarding experience for new employees. It’s important to engage new people right away to create a sense of value and community. Kopitzke compares the need for engagement via onboarding to a new person moving to an unfamiliar town. “If nobody went up to talk to him or engage him, it’s easier for that one person to walk away.” Creating a strong feeling of engagement and purpose is the first step towards employee retention. The way that organizations onboard new employees is the first glimpse that an employee gets at that workplace’s culture.

One helpful tip that Kopitzke has given organizations is to draw a metaphorical “you are here” map as part of the onboarding process. As the new or perspective employee walks in, let them know where they will “sit” within division or department. Make sure they understand what they will be doing and how those things will affect the department, the division, the organization, and the company, which may then affect other branches around the world. This process creates a psychological GPS that allows employees to see the global connections they are making through the work they do.

Understand That Expectations Are a Two-Way Street

In a traditional workplace, it is up to the employer to make sure the employee understands the expectations of the job and the organization. These days, the expectation conversation should go both ways, and should include questions about what employees expect from the organization, their supervisors, and their coworkers.

Determining the expectations of onboarding employees has a dual purpose. First, it gives employers an idea of what makes new employees tick, what motivates them, and what the employee sees as his or her role within the organization. Secondly, it allows these expectations to be managed effectively upfront, decreasing the likelihood that there will be a misunderstanding between employer and employee going forward.

Rethink Traditional Hierarchical Structures

In the past, organizations have operated within a conventional top-down hierarchy. This system carries with it unwritten rules that are typically understood by those used to working within it. On the other hand, Millennials bring with them the idea of a network-like structure that replaces the traditional organizational chart with something more like a bull’s eye or web that has channels running in all directions, funneling in ideas and feeding innovative processes.

For this reason, organizations seeking to attract younger employees should look for ways to incorporate the types of networking structures that Millennials find appealing.

Coach with Frequent Feedback

Millennials place a high value on frequent feedback from supervisors. Kopitzke credits this tendency to social media sites like Facebook with this analogy, “When [employees] post something out there, they’re expecting immediate feedback. If it’s good feedback, they continue doing it. If it’s bad, they stop or will eventually learn to stop.” Kopitzke recommends that employers wait no longer than two weeks between feedback sessions.

This does not mean that employers must conduct a formal performance evaluation every two weeks—rather, the feedback can take the form of “pats on the back” or quick corrections. Younger employees engage better with leadership that takes the form of coaching. Says Kopitzke, “I think they’re [Millennials] looking for a coaching leadership style, somebody who can kind of set up the guardrails for them, let them do and experiment, share ideas, but if they run out of bounds or hit those guardrails, the individual is there to kind of bring them back.”

Create Multiple Incentive Pathways

The incentives that worked to motivate previous generations may not necessarily motivate Millennials, cautions Kopitzke. Because the three generations represented in the workplace right now, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials value different things, it is important to tailor incentives to those diverse values. “One size fits all” incentive plans will always leave someone out.

A great way to develop an effective incentive plan is to simply ask employees what they value and what would motivate them, then build customized incentive plans around that feedback.

In Conclusion…

The good news is that many of the business strategies that Millennials find desirable also work to empower employees from any generation. Factoring in some of these best practices can help your organization attract, retain, and get the most out of the top talent available in the marketplace today that will fuel your organization’s growth for years to come.

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