Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Motivating the Next Generation of Workers

One morning this past spring, I was listening to our local morning talk show and the hosts were asking for comments from listeners about whether the upcoming generation of workers was motivated to work hard. The overwhelming sense of the audience was that they were not.

I beg to differ.

My own generation struck at UC Berkley over academic freedom, we — they — smoked pot and protested the Vietnam War. I went to college in San Francisco and I loved taking rides through the Haight-Ashbury district on Sunday afternoons to see all of the “love children” crowding the streets. How on earth did the older generation motivate us?

Then, along came the children of the ’70s, and so forth. In each group, the older generation wondered if this new group could be motivated. But we did it. I only have to look at the great strides we have made as a society and workforce since I joined.

In the early 1980s, two young men invented a computer that could fit on a desk. Later, the PC became smaller and smaller and today, I am writing this on an amazing little unit that has a 15-inch screen and weighs about a pound. We have seen revolutions in communications, transportation, and data management, all wrought by the love children and their successors.

So: Now we are faced with another generation that does not think “the way we do.” What to do about it?

The answer is in managing and motivating the new generation of workers. They certainly want what we all wanted when we entered the work force. As we have seen in these days of economic uncertainty, they may not be able to look back at their lives and note that they lived better than their parents did, but they are willing to try. The following are some of my own observations from raising and hiring people of the next generation.

  • Although I could never get my own kids to turn off a light when they left a room, this coming generation has a genuine concern for the environment. To them, there is real climate change and they are willing to sacrifice to help the environment — even if that comes at a cost to them personally. They appreciate a business climate where recycling is practiced faithfully and where energy savings are encouraged.
  • When I went to college, the cost was $35 a credit hour or $1,260 a year. Loans were unheard of. Since I graduated in 1966, college costs have exploded and the average student graduates with over $25,000 in debt, and that number is also exploding. Paying those loans has become a paramount concern of today’s new workers.
  • Buying a home is an almost impossible dream. Home prices have gone up exponentially, even here in Vermont.
  • We are increasing mobile as a society, and today’s entrants to the workforce can and will work anywhere. This is one of the reasons that the Vermont Legislature established the Next Generation Commission in 2006 and why the average age of Vermonters is now the second highest in the nation. Our youths are attracted to the cities where wages and mobility are higher.
  • We have just begun to see the impact of social media, and it will be more and more important in the coming years. Use the expertise of new workers to exploit this medium.

The real issue is not whether the coming generation is willing to work. Of course they are. The issue is whether the previous generation(s) is willing to take the time to understand what makes them tick and use what they have learned to motivate them to the greatness that we expect of them.

Our previous generations did just that for us. •

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

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