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Bridging the generation gap in the workplace

Summit highlights how businesses can prepare for the loss in experience when baby boomers retire


Fact: 50 percent of Boeing’s workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2015.

So how do employers prepare to bridge the coming gap in knowledge and skills in the wake of a mass exodus by baby boomers?

That’s the question business, community and city leaders were addressing Thursday at the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center’s 14th annual Economic Summit. Bess Wills, Gresham Ford general manager and chamber president, opened the conference at Persimmon Country Club in Gresham by referring to an impending “jobs war,” where a business’ success or failure will depend on a skilled workforce.

“A country goes broke one company at a time,” Wills said. “Education plays a big part in our future workers’ success and job creation. Finding their talent and skill and retaining them is the key to the future of business.”

Stacy Stack, vice president, training for Express Employment Professionals, provided a humorous insight into the generational differences among workers. If employers want to retain talented employees, Stack said, the key is learning to communicate differently with each generation.

“The life experiences and how they were raised is varied,” Stack said. “Just as the talents and skills they bring are different. But employers and managers need to move with the times to respond to the way each generation functions in the workforce.”

For example, traditionalists (those born before 1946) are most likely to be veterans who view hard work as an expectation. They are loyal and dedicated to their employers and place a high value on job security and stability.

Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) view hard work as a means of advancement. They are the first generation of workaholics, however, because their drive to get ahead often compromised their family or personal life.

Many Gen Xers (1965-1978) grew up in a home with working parents and learned to be independent and self-reliant at an early age. And although they, too, might manage a household with two working adults, they have found a balance between work and home.

The Millennials are the generation born after 1978. Stack calls them “the most loved generation because their parents were so involved with them.” Millennials, however, excel at teamwork and collaborative projects, probably due to the fact that so many grew up on athletic fields.

By gleaning the expertise of workers nearing retirement before they go, Stack said, employers can strengthen their workforces for the future.

“Take advantage of the boomer and traditionalists’ knowledge by establishing mentorship programs between generations,” she said. “That will foster a pipeline where their knowledge will be passed on.”

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Carter John Carter, chairman of Schnitzer Steel Industries, was the keynote speaker. He explained how the Oregon Business Plan is addressing the skills gap from a state level. Representatives from Boeing, Microchip and the Organically Grown Co. participated in a panel discussion and explained how their companies are preparing for the future through community partnerships.