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Gen-X and gen-y: Teaching Them the Business

How to bridge the age gap between older and younger workers in the utility industry.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 2004

process then repeats a number of times. Steinberger notes, "A frequent complaint by the young people is,'You know, I get mixed messages from these people. One guy tells me, "This is the way we do it," another guy tells me, "No, this is the way we do it," so … which way do I do it?' And in the end, they may develop their own in-between way of doing that task. So if you don't put some effort into managing the transfer of information, you just end up creating more bad information about how to do the work."

Steinberger also has observed the younger generation's need for speed firsthand. "When you have an older individual working with a younger one, you do notice there's a frustration on the part of the young person-'C'mon, get it moving, get through what you want to say, just tell me what I need to know, I don't want to hear any of the old stories,'" he says.

The flip side of this is that the younger workers generally have high self-confidence and may, given the opportunity, want to take charge as soon as possible. Since it is inevitable that some workers will drop out of the workforce with little advance notice, whether for reasons of health, injury, or spur-of-the-moment decision-making, there may be a strong temptation to accept the younger workers' initiative in some cases. The unique nature of the GenXers and Bridgers is a mixed blessing in this situation. "The new people tend to like that. They're very willing to say, 'Give me the duty, give me the duty.' But sometimes in talking with them you recognize that they're a little overconfident."

ATC's Approach

Part of ATC's approach to this problem is to give their experienced workers specific guidelines for training younger individuals. These operations guideline documents (OGDs) are used by management to, as Steinberger puts it, "corral the transfer of information to relevant, specific topics." Each one features specific bullet points (and remember how Baby Boomers love those) about job particulars as an outline for discussion with the new worker. The bullet point format really does work well as a guide for the older worker who is accustomed to the structure of traditional training, according to Steinberger. For the younger worker, it "limits the rambling stories" some of the more effusive workers may bring to their knowledge transfer, which keeps the pace at a satisfactory level for the younger worker while maintaining a consistent description of the work to be done.

"By making certain that guideline document is an accurate document, you get some confidence that each young person is being told basically the same thing." Job knowledge, says Steinberger, can be "filled with a lot of misnomers and folklore, and tainted by bitter experiences. It's not necessarily right, and sometimes it's flat-out wrong. If you're going to try to transfer that knowledge to new people, it's best to have some sort of a guiding document that says, when you tell the new person about how you do your work and what you do,