As I mentioned in a previous article, The Generational Dilemma in the Manufacturing Workforce, there is a crisis in the manufacturing world that has to be addressed:
The conflict between the generations.
On one side, you have senior management, who tend to be older and near retirement. On the other side, the younger workforce coming up the ranks.
The older generation feels like millennials and Generation Z aren’t ready to replace them because they lack the skills and experience. The younger generation feels like their senior colleagues are out of date and out of touch with technology that could streamline operations at facilities.
It’s a scenario playing out across our society these days. Both positions have some truth to them. Both sides bring strengths and weaknesses to the table.
But what’s most important is that the two sides work together to create more productive and profitable facilities with strong environmental, health and safety programs.
I recommend using the Core 4 to help bridge the generational gap. By focusing on communications, facility knowledge, property history, and documentation, both sides are on the same page about what’s going on at the facility, which makes things run smoother and reduces costly mistakes. These four elements also provide a structure for everybody to work together effectively and for knowledge to be passed on to new employees.
It’s no secret that older and younger generations communicate quite differently, not only in their personal lives, but also at work. The difference was quite evident in our work with a client in the northeast. We were helping them conduct due diligence prior to an acquisition of a site that last operated in the early 2000s.
To get an idea of what the operation was like back then, including raw materials used and stored, locations and types of process areas, wastes produced and storage areas for those wastes, and past spills/releases - all with the intent of getting a better handle on property history and potential environmental areas of concern, we had to interview some of the retired “old timers” who were on the job back then.
The team at the real estate group working for the sellers was all about communicating through email, often in brief messages. All the back and forth was frustrating for those retired employees. They would rather talk in person or by phone.
The heart of effective communication is understanding how each party is most comfortable speaking to others and exchanging information. You have to be willing to use different communication methods as needed.
In the case of this client, jumping on the phone with those retired workers gave us a plethora of important data on the site in a relatively short period; while it was like pulling teeth to get the same information by email.
Once a mode of communication is established, it can be used as a channel for passing on facility knowledge and property history. For it to work, the older generation must be willing to pass on that information, and the younger generation must be ready to respectfully receive and retain it. It’s all about listening.
Clear communication is vital to this coaching process. In fact, the simple act of communication and passing on knowledge often serves as a prompt for the older generation to see processes in a new light. I know when I’m coaching one of our employees or even a client, I’m forced to think through the whole process we are reviewing, and I often gain insights on how to streamline things.
Let’s say you are a facility manager and you’re coaching a younger staff member that has just come on board. You’re working through a certain task with them. As you do so, you realize that you haven’t been historically completing that task the best, or most efficient way possible. As a result, you may start to rethink how you are doing certain tasks at your facility.
With that said, you also have to be open to the possibility that the person you’re coaching might have valuable insights, as a newcomer with fresh eyes.
That means you have to take that younger person’s feedback as well. You must realize that despite their youth and relative inexperience, that up and comer brings a lot of knowledge and capability to the table, not to mention familiarity and comfort with technology.
Technology can help you improve and streamline processes and make your life easier as long as you know how to implement and utilize it correctly. Allow younger team members to demonstrate what technology can do and then make the decision if you want to use it. It shows respect to this new person willing to contribute.
Don’t fall prey to the widespread belief of the older generation that using technology is the lazy way. And, often, you’re so entrenched with the way things have always been done, you’re blind to alternatives, which can be a barrier to improvement. Please avoid the old saying – “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” Be open to change that leads to improvements and increasing efficiencies!
Let’s break that mindset. For effective communications, both sides must listen and be willing to learn.
As younger workers learn their jobs, thorough facility knowledge is key. This is all about understanding what the facility does and how it’s done – a good general knowledge of operations, essentially.
This is not about knowing all the nitty-gritty details of every single process. You don’t need to know how to run every machine. But it’s important to know the raw materials, required permits and reporting, the finished products, and any waste products generated.
As the senior team member, you must pass on this information, using effective communications. The new employee must listen, seek to understand, and ask questions when something is not clear.
That last part is critical.
Always ask questions if you don’t understand. I always tell our team members to not be afraid to ask questions. The only time you should be afraid of questions is when you don’t ask them when you don’t understand something. You can’t just transcribe information when you are being instructed on something, whether at a job site or when in training. Whether the trainer or trainee, never be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” That’s the first step to finding the answer and filling in the gaps on facility knowledge.
For the younger generation, you need to build a solid foundation on facility knowledge in order to establish a productive present and successful future. There is no easier way to do this than to tap into the knowledge base of the experienced, long-service employees at your facility.
For the older generation, you are critical in your facility’s future successes by making sure past mistakes are not repeated. Repeating a past mistake is one of the costliest things a facility can do. Make sure that does not happen by passing on your knowledge to the younger generation at your facility. Make them aware of not only how to do something, but also how not to do something. Help groom the younger set to ensure continued successes at your facility.
Remember, you must know what you do and how you do it, in order to know what you need at your facility. That’s the key to facility knowledge.
I’ll cover the remaining two parts of the Core 4, property history and documentation, in Part 2 of this article.
In the meantime, download this free checklist I’ve put together to help you identify problem areas in your facility and address them.
Core Four Requirements Checklist.