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Are Millennials onto Something?

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I went into Home Depot the other day to get a few things. A live wire hanging from the ceiling had fallen near my home office desk, and was now resting in a position dangerously close to where my head would be while working. As I left the store with a bracket and some wood screws, I walked past four or five customers waiting in line to be checked out, the first of whom was having trouble wrestling with a few lengthy pieces of lumber. The self checkout machines, meanwhile, were completely deserted. So I proceeded to those. The Home Depot employee was still finishing up with the lumber guy as I walked out the door.

Why wasn't anyone else using the self checkout machine?

It sounds silly not to take advantage of a simple piece of technology that would make, in this instance, getting in and out of the store faster and easier.

Perhaps part of the answer is looking to the younger generation for ideas. 

But this isn't just a shopping phenomenon; many businesses––especially in construction––are slow to adopt new tools, despite a steady influx of tech services that streamline common tasks to a more efficient end.

But for businesses to stay effective in a rapidly changing landscape, that’s going to have to change. Perhaps part of the answer is looking to the younger generation for ideas.

Millennials in the Workforce

Millennials are becoming the predominant demographic in the workplace, to make up half the global labor force by 2020, as projected by PwC. This is a generation that has grown up (or at least lived a large part of their lives) with a powerful computer in their pockets.

Ask a 25 year old to do almost any daily task and they'll pull up a mobile app and complete it in a matter of seconds. They've had instant messaging, automated reminders, the ability to collaborate and share ideas virtually with people anywhere in the world, at their fingertips even before they were old enough to finish reading the Harry Potter books.

Millennial workers expect fast, customizable, and collaborative ways to communicate. They require instant, easy access to information, and are puzzled when innovation is not a priority. Meanwhile 78% of Millennials surveyed by PwC say that access to technology makes them more effective at work, and they want to take their companies with them.

Can Construction Keep Pace?

The construction industry, on the other hand, is falling behind. The number of young people entering construction has remained stagnant, so perhaps it’s not surprising that innovative progress has also lagged behind other sectors. According to the 5th Annual Construction Technology Report put out by JBKnowledge technology solutions company, which surveyed over 50,000 industry professionals, “The construction industry is still hesitant to pay for and utilize technology.”

“The construction industry is still hesitant to pay for and utilize technology." 

The Engineering News-Record’s World Economic Forum Study reported that, product advancements within construction have been meager compared to those in the rest of the world's industries during the last 50 years. It continued that reducing construction costs by just 1% through productivity improvements would save the construction industry roughly $100 billion per year.

Not all construction companies are slow to adapt. Many are tapping into the know-how of their younger workers, who as digital natives, are in the unique position of entering the workplace with a better understanding of important business tools than some of their more senior workers.

Firms like Turner Construction Co. and DPR Construction (both of which are among California's top five contractors this year) encourage employees to submit tech-related ideas for company improvements via a special web platform.

Some companies are taking that a step further, setting aside days where senior executives are paired with their younger colleagues in a sort of reverse-mentoring partnership. It’s a good way to infuse a company with new perspectives on how to tackle problems and get things done.

Doing Things More Efficiently with Technology

Managing projects, collaborating on documents, communicating effectively––these are all tasks that Millennials have already been able to simplify in their own daily lives through technology. Why wouldn't you take that success and apply it to your business?

Businesses, like people, have a propensity to get stuck doing tasks the old way. 

Then again, why wouldn't the people waiting in line at Home Depot use the self checkout machines? Businesses, like people, have a propensity to get stuck doing tasks the old way.

If your business is hesitant to use a technology that will make you more efficient, then the millennial workforce, along with those firms that are willing to listen to them, will leave you waiting in line as they walk out the door.

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