I grew up in the era of the PC. In 1981 when I was 11 years old, my father bought one of the first IBM PCs as he strongly believed in staying ahead of the curve with technology. He encouraged us to learn how to use it and, therefore I knew a PC inside and out at a young age. When I graduated from college, I felt like I was ahead of the game and on top of the world. I was sure that because I could program this computer, I could accomplish anything – but the world shifts quickly.
Ten years later, my brother graduated. In that amount of time, the millennial generation had taken over. He grew up programming in assembly language, which is the basis of so much of our technology now. Along these same lines, if a generation takes about 15 years to transition, you quickly realize that there will be many generations working alongside one another in the same workplace. My father’s generation, my generation, and my brother’s generation were separated by both specialties and developments, but together we joined forces and created the cornerstone technologies, processes, and methods of my company and its culture – to ignore these differences that create success would be foolish.
Today, 27 years after I graduated from college, our company’s younger employees, who are in their mid 20’s and early 30’s, are working on innovative and transformative technologies with Industry 4.0 solutions – such as Big Data, Digital Twins, Cloud Computing, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence. It’s a natural progression that should be encouraged and invested in.
As business leaders, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve to the best of our ability. We have to stay somewhat abreast with where technology is going. But if we neglect our greatest resource while we seek to do that, we’ll just end up spinning our wheels. The next generation is the most valuable place to invest our time and money if we want to have any hope of staying competitive in the coming years.
The Spirit of the Youth
We can’t forget that some of our most inspiring business leaders and inventors were fanning their sparks into flames in their 20s. Bill Gates was 19 years old when he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs was 21 at Apple’s inception. Nikola Tesla was 30 when he tested and re-tested his motor prototypes that inspire so much of our technology today.
There is a fearlessness that comes with youth. The years when idealism is strong and risk-taking feels like there’s so much less on the line – those are the years you want people breathing fire into your company. Young people are growing and developing, but so is your company. Where your older generation may feel inhibited due to past failure, your younger employees haven’t experienced that yet. This allows them to have a raw optimism when you work with them. If you can align those growth and development strategies with the skills the next generation is building, you can find your company becoming a powerful force.
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Don’t Box Them In
One of the biggest mistakes I see companies making is squeezing young people into a role the company wants them to fill. It’s the best way to destroy your greatest asset. Why do we take the most creative people we know and force them to all be the same? Young people look at problems differently. They see things from different angles because their experience has been different than ours growing up. This is what fascinates me so much about working with this generation. Rather than assuming I am the only one with wisdom, I prefer to ask my team how we can use what they have learned. A collaborative approach to problem-solving involves all generations.
It is still a balance. We do have to remind millennials and Gen-Z’ers that rules and procedures are necessary for a peaceful and consistent workplace. We aren’t merely handing them the keys, just yet – we are also focusing on training. Let’s always encourage them to take ownership, accountability, and full responsibility for their choices, successes, and mistakes, as this is also a key component of personal and professional development that will last a lifetime. For those of us who have been in the workforce for longer, we now realize that 20 years went by like nothing. We still feel like we are in our 20s, but we’re not. That is hard for younger people to grasp when they haven’t experienced it yet, but we need to do our best to pass on what we’ve learned. It’s a continuous workflow and the young people of today will be the CEOs and executives of tomorrow. They will maintain that spirit of encouragement, motivation, training, and development for new generations to come; thus also maintaining that perpetual cycle to develop a better future for mankind through the ages.
My company, Reliable Controls, has spearheaded many different initiatives to get connected to young talent and invest in the next generation. We have young people working on technical whitepapers, breathing life into our marketing department, and taking on internships across the board. We have connected with local universities to grow these internships. The more we can do to advance these initiatives, the better. We’ve connected to so many intelligent and creative students through these routes, including many pursuing PhDs. Many of these interns graduate and work with us, creating lasting value for the company.
Since our company works worldwide, we’ve also tapped into the talent that exists worldwide and sponsored H1-B visas. This enables us to have a broader cultural perspective in addition to the generational one we’re seeking.
I have no regrets about my investment in this upcoming generation of dynamic individuals. They’ve served my company well and kept me young. They’ve saved me time, shown me unique angles on complex problems, and they’ve been enjoyable to be around. They’ve transformed the future of Reliable Controls. This approach to running a business is paramount for maintaining a competitive edge in today’s market. The younger generations truly are essential for your company to become the best it can be. Unleash them and let them amaze you!