Find Success by Optimizing Generational Skill Sets

If you asked the average 10-year-old what he or she wanted to be when they grew up, what do you think their answer would be? Thirty years ago, you might have heard common answers, such as astronaut, firefighter or scientist. Today, you’re just as likely to hear “YouTuber!”

To be clear, I am not making a value judgment here (certainly, there are lucrative careers on YouTube). But this is the reality we face today. As the glass industry moves forward, we must do what we can to cultivate a new generation of professionals to help our businesses succeed.

A recent piece in the Harvard Business Review puts plainly how important this is.

“Demographic change is one of the least understood yet profoundly important issues facing organizations today,” the authors write. “The ‘working-age population’ in the U.S.— those aged 16 to 64—is contracting at a pace not experienced since World War II. Unlike that period, there is no ‘baby boom’ behind it, and none is expected in the near future. Generation Z has three million fewer people than the Millennial generation, and Generation Alpha, which follows Gen Z, is expected to be even smaller … Employers that don’t think beyond today’s working-age population will likely struggle to build a reliable workforce that can maintain operational efficiency and effectiveness.”

So, what can we do? One thing to remember is that younger generations maintain different skills and interests than their older counterparts—but both are important, and glass professionals should take the opportunity to harness them in a way that best suits their business. Doing so not only helps us continue to deliver high-performance glass products but can also help in engagement and retention.

Consider: It’s been well established how modern automated glass processing equipment can help you optimize your pace of production, throughput, quality and consistency. Such machinery is increasingly equipped with new tools that help production shops gain deeper insight into production processes. For instance, sensors can help automatically adjust settings and generate data you can leverage for better decision-making. Operators might analyze that data and control machine function via touchscreens.

And it’s here where you have an opportunity to leverage cross-generational skills for everyone’s benefit. Having grown up using computers and smartphones, you may find that younger workers flourish in such a digitally controlled environment. Meanwhile, older, more experienced glass production workers may have a better eye for product quality and more traditional plant skills—safety, continuous improvement and others. Talk to your people, weigh their strengths and interests, and put them in positions where they’re more likely to succeed.

What’s more, encourage them to share their skills—younger and older workers have a lot to learn from each other, and when they do, it can lead to big operational benefits. Such a strategy can also be an important part of creating engagement and cultivating new leaders—which is especially important as we continue maneuvering within a tight labor market.

Leveraging the skills of every generation of workers will be increasingly important in the coming years. It’s critical to get the most from your equipment to maintain quality and consistency and develop high-performing glass products commercial construction can count on.

Joe Erb is a national account manager for Quanex.