Children are our future

The construction industry needs to embrace youth in order to thrive

M. Vasanth Kumar is chief executive officer of Arabian MEP Contracting
M. Vasanth Kumar is chief executive officer of Arabian MEP Contracting

It is often said that “people are the lifeblood of business” and arguably this statement could not be truer for construction sector, which has such a large labour content.

At present, the construction field is made up of Baby Boomers (people born between 1946-1965) and Generation X (born after 1965).

Since the Baby Boomers are fast nearing retirement, the replacement pool has to come from Generation Y (born between 1980-2000) and Generation Z (born after 2000 ). Generations Y and Z, the so-called “Millennials”, will soon make up the largest contingent of the workforce.

They are described as the most digitally connected and tech-savvy generation in history and are set to drive global change through technology. Their core values, motivations and desires are radically different to their Baby Boomer parents and this is having a huge impact on how businesses shape their organisations going forwards.

Millennials grew up seeing their parents working long hours doing stressful jobs with a lack of work-life balance, so they are very selective about their future.

Construction is seen by youth as a stressful, low-paid and accident-prone industry without much technological involvement. These factors do not entice the younger generations to pursue a career in construction.

This is one of the major reasons why the construction industry is facing an acute skills shortage worldwide. How effectively we respond to this global challenge will determine the success or decline of the construction industry.

The answer lies in a collective, dynamic action plan and starts at grass roots level, where high schools must amend their academic-oriented curriculum by adding more real-world situations and by incorporating workplace technical and soft skills, or else young people will be left out in the cold.

Getting expert businesspeople into schools will provide real-world insight.It will also help to encourage and prepare the next generation to opt for careers in construction. Young people who do join the industry can also be pigeonholed by older generation, who label them as disloyal, disrespectful, impulsive and who lack perseverance.

It should be understood that different generations think and behave differently and might have distinct lifestyles, values and attributes. Unlike Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, who value hard work as the way to success, Millennials will actively engage in work only if it is meaningful, challenging and provides for future career enhancement.

Recent research has revealed that managers have an overall negative view of young workers, saying they have unrealistic compensation expectations, a poor work ethic and are easily distracted. This may seem like the battle is lost even before it has begun.

Since it is too early to have Generation Z staff on board as replacements for the ageing generation, the focus will be currently on Generation Y and on bringing them into greater positions of responsibility.

Managers can motivate Millennial workers by providing them with a clear ‘road map’ and explicitly stating expectations, as well as offering them more challenging responsibilities with greater freedoms and a much wider sense of ownership.

Traits expressed by younger generations should not be confused with defiance and troublemaking. Put simply, if the needs of younger workers are not met, they will look elsewhere for opportunities. Their behaviour stems from a desire to continually develop new skills and experience.

Once we instill a passion in young people, they could be the trailblazers of the construction industry. Given the strengths of each age group and the differences between the three generations, the key to the success of a company largely depends on how effectively this generational diversity is managed in the workplace.

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