On The Floor

Who Should You Hire?

Klaus M. Blache | November 15, 2018

Hire young people based on attitude and pair them with Baby Boomers to learn the practical skills they need to succeed.

Q: Who should I hire for my plant-floor Reliability Engineer opening?

A: The easy answer is, “It depends on your short- and long-range needs.” You could look for an early retiree or opt for a younger engineer. However, you’ve heard all types of things about young engineers not staying in one place very long and having different opinions on balance of work life and work-hours flexibility. Many may have student-loan debt that will drive them to constantly seek higher pay. While most are highly educated, they may have minimal practical skills.

Several studies have categorized attributes between generations. Many of them have targeted product marketing. Below is my cumulative interpretation from a skills/traits perspective. The years don’t line up between groups because of the different times noted in studies. So I’m showing the range of all studies reviewed.

Baby Boomers (born 1944 to 1964)

Key events: Post World War II, time of prosperity, optimistic, Vietnam War, cold war, hippie movement.

Skills/traits: Many are workaholics, very committed, overtime is normal, less likely to want change, stable work, competitive to goals/rewards, less technology focused but use it when it’s needed, more are still working part or full time than anticipated.

Generation X (born 1965 to 1980)

Key events: End of cold war, expansion of personal computing, student debt, high unemployment.

Skills/traits: Better at digital technologies, want companies to focus more on “people and purpose” (Deloitte survey), don’t trust work institution, better at work-life balance, accept diversity, practical, leaving after eight hours is more likely even if key work project is not completed.

Generation Y/Millennials (born 1977 to 1998)

Key events: 9/11 Twin Towers, social media, internet, student debt, Great Recession, high unemployment.

Skills/traits: Highly educated, more go to college but not STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) areas, diversity is expected, good multi-taskers, prefer access over ownership, on-demand service, realistic, more accepting of institutions, want to create processes (versus being given direction), not as good at teamwork.

Generation Z/iGeneration (born 1995 to 2015)

Key events: Social media, smartphones (grew up with phone in their hand and connected world).

Skills/traits: More focused on financial education/understanding (more saw parents struggle), lower attention span, excellent multi-tasking, more realistic views, most technologically capable, would rather have own business, more entrepreneurial, high expectations, least company loyalty, more global, attached to their devices.

From a Millennial or Gen X viewpoint, the American dream (nice job, house, car) is passing many of them by. They see Baby Boomers as not retiring and filling positions that they could have. I won’t debate here whether or not they would have the skills, but it’s another perspective.

According to the Deloitte study noted in the Research Sources sidebar, “Millennials are widely thought to be less loyal to their employers than other colleagues. But a look at the numbers suggests that many of the traits attributed to Millennials are related to prevailing economic conditions rather than to fundamental differences in their aspirations.” Although Baby Boomers are the largest historical generation (78 million), Millennials will, in the next year or two, be the largest living generation.

Recruiting younger employees, especially with the right skills, will get more competitive. Why not offer a loan-repayment-assistance program tied to years of employment? I know companies that are helping with housing. It builds some loyalty and employees are less likely to leave if housing is subsidized or provided, especially in high-cost markets. Better understanding of and response to their life aspirations will be a great asset in recruiting and retention.

Yes, I see some of the traits that concern prospective employers. But, for the most part, young people also want to do a good job and are hard working. They just had their identities formed by a different time in history A few months ago, I was on a flight next to a young man going to his job at an oil field. He took the position four years ago, directly out of high school. He plans to work one more year in his physically demanding role and then go to college. He makes more than $125,000 annually and can live on about $25,000. He will pay his own way through college, have incredible practical skills, and get a nice start on his savings.

Although you need some fundamental capabilities, what has been said for a long time still holds true: “Hire for attitude and train for additional skills.” Get the Gen X, Y, and Z talent and pair them with your Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers. Many companies require college degrees, but the movement toward skills training and two-year degrees is starting to gain traction for specific jobs.

The future of reliability and maintainability is still about applying fundamentals such as precision maintenance, CMMS, planning and scheduling, and root-cause analysis. Future competitive advantage will be determined by how good you are at, among other things, IIoT, connectivity, analytics, machine learning/artificial intelligence, and knowing how to implement and develop a robust culture of continuous improvement. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at kblache@utk.edu.

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