COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | WILLIAM SMYTH

Training the millennial generation

Baby boomers are retiring from the workforce at a record pace. There are not enough seasoned employees to replace them from the succeeding age group — Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980. Gen X workers will fill just half of the available openings. The rest will be filled by the millennial generation, people born after 1980.

Millennials account for 36 percent of the U.S. workforce today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In just 10 years, they will account for 75 percent of the workforce — three of every four employees.

The millennial generation will rise through the ranks more quickly than previous generations of workers, due to the large numbers of openings created by the retiring baby boomers. As a result, millennials will require more training to support them and help them and their employers succeed.

The good news: Millennial workers value training and it drives their employment decisions. In a survey of 400 newly hired sales professionals, 96.7 percent said ongoing training programs drove their search for new employment, and 87.2 percent said the potential for career advancement was critical to their employment choice.

Making education part of the workforce culture is something the construction industry has embraced long before the millennial generation came along. We are uniquely positioned to embrace the next generation of professionals through the ongoing development of a stable, well-trained workforce. The construction industry knows that career training is a winning strategy for attracting and motivating well-qualified people.

Al Riso, recently named 2015 Instructor of the Year by the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego, embraces the principles critical to successful training programs for millennials.

“I try to apply it to what the students do day in and day out,” Riso said. “I find examples that directly relate to what they do on the job. I match what they will be using in real life to the curriculum and make it interesting so they stay with me.”

The keys to millennial training:

Maintain and advance knowledge and skill: Our ABC Apprenticeship Training Academy provides a thorough program combining classroom and lab training with on-the-job experience. But it cannot end there. It’s important that training plans are developed and implemented which upgrade current skills throughout an employee’s career. To retain knowledge, skills need to be practiced, refreshed and upgraded on a regular basis so elements aren’t forgotten.

Provide an incentive to learn: If training is provided as part of a bigger picture career development path, employees will have much more incentive to participate, learn, and put their new skills into practice.

Stay current and competitive: All industries are constantly changing. It’s critical for construction craft professionals to use the most current building practices, use the latest materials and equipment and make sure projects comply with industry and government regulations. It’s impossible to do this without ongoing training to ensure that employee skills and knowledge are up-to-date.

Embrace new technology: New technology is being developed all the time. Our Apprenticeship Training Trust provides the most current technology for our apprentices, but even a few years after they complete our program, technology will change. Regular training needs to continue so technology can be used by our professionals to its fullest potential.

Increase job satisfaction: Through continued investment in training, employees enjoy a higher sense of job satisfaction, which can improve their motivation towards their work. This reduces employee turnover and increases productivity, which directly improves profitability. It also prevents competitors from taking away your best employees by offering training incentives.

Attract new talent: All businesses want to have the best employees. As the baby boomers and later the Gen Xers retire, there will be more competition for millennial employees. Because millennials value a commitment to training, it will give your industry a positive image and help you attract high-quality staff.

Millennials are eager to pursue career opportunities that allow them to move as far and as fast as their knowledge, skills, work ethic and determination will take them. They are sometimes seen as “entitled” or “arrogant.” But among our apprentices, we see a positive, “I can do anything” attitude that can generate enormous value for our employers in the construction industry.

Millennials might not immediately consider careers in construction, but when they realize how well our approach fits their needs, we will all benefit. It’s our responsibility as more senior members of the workforce to help millennials get to work.


Smyth is chief financial officer of Sherwood Mechanical and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust board of trustees.

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