Two times in the past week the topic of understanding the dynamics behind generational differences has come up in my world.
As you might recall from past columns, it is a topic of great interest to me and one I have studied a lot.
The first topic involved the groundbreaking Thursday for Alpena Community College's new Ferris H. Werth Electrical Power Technology Center. Part of the success behind ACC's utility technician program is the simple fact that many of those in the industry today are Baby Boomers who are at, or nearing, retirement age. Thus, the need for quality utility technicians will continue for several more years. At the time Baby Boomers were starting their careers it coincided with a major expansion of utility operations and hirings in our country. That explains the large numbers of Boomers in this field.
The second discussion stemmed from a recent column about volunteer help in our region. I mentioned recently that with the cancellation of the Wings over Alpena 2014 event, I hoped Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President Mary Beth Stutzman would consult with organizers, see where problem areas developed, and then share her findings with all groups in our region so that we all could learn from the experience.
Stutzman wasted no time in doing just that, and shared with me this week that she believed one of the problems groups face in our region stems from generational differences.
She writes, "Not a month goes by that I don't meet with a committee or organization of some sort and learn that they are lacking younger volunteers to help get the work done. Our community is full of generous people willing to give freely of their time time but ... they are the same people who have doing it for decades and they are getting tired. Our local groups need new blood, more people who are 40-ish and under.
"So, why aren't more young people involved in our community? Do they not care? After personal experience and a lot of research I've found that young people are voraciously passionate about supporting local efforts but they have grown up with a different set of circumstances and as a result respond to things in a different way.
"Younger people hate meetings. They'd prefer to be given actionable tasks that they can complete on their own time and they prefer to communicate information via email rather than attend meetings.
"Younger people don't feel obligated to do anything. But once they identify with a cause they are loyal to that cause for the long haul.
"Younger generations strive for greater work-life balance than previous generations. These folks grew up with two working parents who most likely also volunteered so they know first hand what life can be like with too much going on. As a result, they are more choosy about how they spend their time."
I believe Stutzman "hit the nail right on the head" with her observations. Certainly it coincides with many of the characteristics I have studied regarding the generations.
Take for instance, the Millennials, a generation of young adults 33 or younger. According to Chuck Underwood, author of "The Generational Imperative," this is a group who were greatly influenced by their Baby Boomer parents. Underwood maintains this group is very career-driven and "feel time pressure. They tend to schedule their days like efficiency experts ... time is a luxury many Millennials don't possess. They'll pay for convenience and time saving."
As for volunteering, this is a generation that wants to be involved. In fact, they've been dubbed "Generation Give" as the two most defining moments of this generation's lives were 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. With Katrina, college students of this generation flocked in groves to New Orleans on their spring break to assist in cleanup efforts.
In 1984, when Generation Xers were in school, 900,000 students volunteered for community service. In 2003, with Millennials in high school, that number swelled to 6,200,000.
As Stutzman explained, young people want to be involved, but they don't want to get bogged down in too many meetings or details.
The takeaway for all of this is that volunteering help still is out there, and it does exist with those under 40. However, we need new ways and angles to "tap into" the help of that age group. If we can figure that out, the floodgates of volunteers will open and an outpouring of new talent and help will be available.