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How to bridge the workplace generation gap

Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z are all part of the workforce, bringing with them a diversity of perspective and lived experience, opening up opportunity for innovation, critical thinking and expertise to collide and collaborate. But there’s also an enormous challenge at play in helping these diverse groups recognise and engage with the value their counterparts offer - in particular, the untapped potential of younger generations stepping into the workforce.

In this new, dynamic world of work, traditional pathways to work are less common, and a young person is predicted to have 17 jobs over five careers in their lifetime. Attracting and retaining appropriate skill sets in this evolving environment, where new and different methods and practices are constantly being developed across the globe, has never been more important. And it’s a conversation workplaces should be having now.

Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians

One of the key issues for employers and candidates alike is our traditional mind set when it comes to skills and capabilities and how these are used at work. Young candidates come to us with a great attitude and the majority of them will have a degree or technical training, and while they may lack formal experience in a particular role, when we dive into their life and work experiences it becomes clear that their broader skills and capabilities are transferable.

Along with a “digital stack” of tools, the younger generation of workers are often easily able to spot opportunities for disruption, bringing a fresh perspective and creative mind set. Talent-seeking employers need to focus hiring practices on a candidate’s skills and capabilities, disposition and competencies along with their potential to adapt. This would widen the pool of candidates and may help to reduce vacancies.

A capabilities framework provides a way for employers to promote self-assessment and direction in their workers’ ongoing learning. Because we know our staff will have so many jobs across their lifetime, a way to retain talent is to take that new mind set about lifelong learning and a portfolio of skills. It gives employees the opportunity to reflect on what they do, what skills they require, and influence their development over time. This may be through professional development or supporting project teamwork in an area outside their usual job.

By creating the opportunity for staff to work across a number of different project teams it means that in some, you may be the leader of the project and sharing your knowledge so others can learn, and in others you may be the one learning in an area you know little about. Providing an effective environment for your staff to be able to explore their interests and grow their skills is key to preparing for the future of work. However, the individual plays an important role in smart learning, too.

We promote peer-to-peer learning where team members are asked if they would be interested in mentoring someone else, or if they’d like to be a mentee. We also encourage all of our team members to run lunchtime learnings. These are informal sessions on anything that someone might like to share or teach. It also provides the presenter valuable experience in presenting, particularly when they don’t always get a chance to do this.

Peer learning and reverse mentoring, done well, can add new perspectives helping today’s leaders drive stronger business impact and giving tomorrow’s leaders an early peek at the view from the top. It also helps bridge that inter-generational gap by demonstrating value across the organisation at every level and age. For instance, you’d be crazy to be over 40 without a digital mentor under 30 in 2018! Whether you’re an organisation with a big budget for extra training and professional development or you’re a small organisation that relies on its team to drive these things, there are plenty of simple ways to get your current and future workers ready for the New Work Order.

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