As the 21st century continues to develop new technology in every aspect of the world, including the workplace, more and more people are finding ways to succeed at any age. People are working for years longer due to technology, creating the largest age gap the workplace has ever experienced.
In some industries, communication, workplace culture, the promotional ladder and many other variables are all changing as the gap in age continues to increase.
Julie Scannel, HR director for GH Tool and Mold, believes that some of the problems associated with these arising challenges reflect these younger generations.
“Employees prioritizing their needs isn’t really something we used to see very often. They’re not afraid to lose a job if it means a better life for themselves; whereas previous generations believed the job was the key to a better life,” Scannell said.
Workplaces outside of Washington have defined these changes as a limiting factor to their success. Washington, however, views today’s workforce challenge as a workforce opportunity.
David Englebrecht, Chief Operations Officer, President of Citizens Bank believes that the Washington area allows the bank to hire high schoolers to work alongside the veterans like himself. “The young people that are coming to work for us are great examples of what the parents and teachers in this community are teaching them to be,” Englebrecht said. “They're hard workers and very competitive and driven. I think a lot of those people my age are somewhat taken aback that they're hungry for movement upward quickly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.”
Luke Meyer, Vice President of Citizens Bank grew up in the Washington community and when he was hired on at the bank, was one of the youngest loan officers the bank had ever had. Now he helps fill the gaps between generations.
Meyer first began working when internet banking first started. As new ideas are created from younger employees he has helpful insight on what it means to be present during such an impactful shift. “When I started, internet banking was the primary cutting edge thing. We've evolved into mobile banking. You can get eAlerts, and you can do everything from your phone now. The younger employees have some really great ideas. There's a lot of different perspectives being thrown in, and their ideas are being heard. The challenge is just trying to manage those different styles, and bring them into our reality,” Meyer said.
Paige Robinson, a junior at Washington High School and part-time teller, views the opportunity to work with everyone at the bank as a perspective of what it takes to work in any industry, especially at the bank.
“The older generations have the full time jobs that could potentially be open by the time I’m out of college. Working with people of all ages opens my eyes and teaches me what I have to work towards no matter where I end up,” Robinson said.
Similar to the different generations at Citizens Bank, GH Tool and Mold varies in generations. Aaron Meyer and Blaine Straatmann, both work at GH during the school day before their normal afternoon shifts. This partnership with Four Rivers Career Center and GH has allowed both of these students more opportunities to see what it’s like working more than just after school. Meyer and Straatmann agree that the culture at GH has a big effect on what their experience is truly like. “I don’t think [the workforce challenge] really affects us because we all get along really well,” Meyer said. “I’ve heard about it from the media more than from problems that may happen during work.”
The relationships between the community, schools, and businesses in Washington reflects the relationships inside the workplace, as well. “We try to be good friends with all of the workers so that when we make mistakes like setting up the same tools twice we aren’t afraid to go and talk with the older employees,” Straatmann said. Robinson agrees that the relationship inside the office helps overcome any challenges that do arise because of an age difference.
“We are all a good team. If someone is in the midst of something, we have each other’s back and make sure that we get the next customer,” Robinson said. “Everyone at Citizens Bank treats me like an adult. Customers ask sometimes if I’m just ‘helping out’ but everyone I work with sticks up for me and says ‘no she’s a part of us’,” Robinson said.
Washington finds that the different generations are a benefit, however, there are still stereotypes of what the workplace in this generation is going to be like.
“There's always going to be disagreements and there's always going age differences in the workplace, therefore, it’s less about the disconnect and more about how to overcome those stereotypes through the generations,” Englebrecht said.
Even though there are challenges with training older employees in new technology while also teaching younger generations the expectations of working in a certain environment, the benefit of having a large array of generations working together outweighs any challenges. “Every generation has people with good and bad work ethics, individuals who are eager to learn and contribute, and individuals who are just in it for themselves. We are fortunate to have a company and community culture that promotes the former, regardless of age,” Scannell said.
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