Have Millennials Broken Field Service Yet?

May 23, 2019 • Featuresfuture of field serviceMilleniallsmillennialMIllennialsField Technologies

Kris Oldland reflects on whether a two speed approach to staff development is the way to deal with the transitory nature of millennials...

In the endless talk about the shift from the retiring baby-boomer workforce and the incoming Millennials, I as a representative of that overlooked, unforgotten middle child, poor old Generation X, would like to just take a moment to point out that we often tend to get left out of the conversation. Now, don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an article of self-pity - that’s just not the way us Gen-X folk roll.

Nope, we are the generation that just rolls our sleeves up and gets on with it.

Unlike our Baby Boomer parents and elder siblings, who were able to indulge in free love whilst turning on, tuning in and dropping out, that greatest consumer generation of them all, who spent every dollar they earned as they lived solely in the now, those of us in Gen X, got up off our backsides and went and got a McJob to see us through college before generally fixing the ‘Boomers mess and creating the easy gig that the Millennials got to inherit.

You know sometimes history can be a cruel mother to the middle child.

The Millennials are the first generation to exist in a time of huge technological advancement (and it’s subsequent impact on society) since the industrial revolution. Therefore, quite rightly, we should factor in such significant change when considering how we attract, develop and retain them within the workforce. All I ask, is just occasionally, spare a thought for us poor oft overlooked Gen Xers who have been quietly making things tick over for a long time now.

I mean, OK they might be the first google native generation, and the internet as we know it today may have been invented by a ‘Boomer, but it was us who terraformed the world wide web from the frontier town of the early nineties to the sprawling global metropolis it is today. You’re very welcome.

All of the above is of course said firmly with my tongue in cheek. Crikey, technically, I’m actually dangerously close to being a Millennial myself having been born in ‘80 - technically I think that makes me a Xennial - meaning I’m more down with the kids than my elder Gen X brethren, but still remember the sheer agony of pre-app dating, and the terrifying wait on the phone to see if it was your intended date who picked up, or her rather more hostile father.

And whilst, it is of course fun to pick on both ‘Boomers and Millennials alike from my lofty Gen X pedestal, there is a actually a serious point to be considered here.

Sure, there are plenty of things that we should be considering when the difference from one outgoing generation to the incoming generation within a workforce is so pronounced. I know, I’ve certainly spent plenty of time writing and talking about the topic in the past.

For example, ‘Boomers wear the knowledge they have earned through study and experience like armour. The deeper the knowledge, the stronger the armour - as the more invaluable they become to an organisation.

Millennials on the other hand, see knowledge as an easily accessible resource, always readily available and on demand through a couple of taps and swipes on the phone in their pocket.

"They are the first generation to exist in a time of technological advancement since the industrial revolution..."

‘Boomers viewed career paths as fairly straightforward, linear progressions. A ladder to be climbed, with progress being in steady increments, one rung at a time. Millennials, are as inclined to move sideways, often into a different industry entirely, and research by Deloitte showed the average time a millennial intends to stay in a job is just two years.

Another huge difference is that whilst financial remuneration always played a key role in ‘Boomers career aspirations, Millennials value the societal impact of a company and will look at soft factors like company policies on diversity, inclusion and flexibility, equally if not more so, than just money itself.

So yes, there undoubted differences between the two. And yes to reiterate such changes should be considered when talking about talent recruitment, retention and development. However, it feels to me that if we reassess things to radically within our internal procedures, we may be at risk of losing what I believe is the utmost important thing for any business to maintain if they want to be successful. An Inside-Out perspective.

Remember, as much as Millennials are our new/future workforce, they are also our new/future customer base.

It is obviously thus, highly important to acknowledge what makes this generation on the whole, buy into a brand - green carbon neutral policies for example carry as much wait in this age, as a cheesy celebratory endorsement would have back in the 80s. In doing so, and by being a company whose values Millennials can buy into, you will enhance your recruitment success. But one caveat here is it needs to be led from the top and be genuine.

Millenials have an inate ability to smell BS from distance.

The other issue I see with sweeping generalisations of a generation, is that by treating Millennials as a monolith, we may be at risk of overlooking the individual - and in field service in particular, the individual is often the star of the show.

This creates something of a duality that we must overcome and I suggest doing so by adopting a two pronged approach to our workforce. On one hand we need to acknowledge and embrace that many of the Millennials that come through the workforce may be just ‘passing through’ and invest in the technologies such as AR and knowledge banks, technologies which can make them as productive as possible, as quickly as possible. Here, we want a workforce with a shallow but broad skill set that can then be supplemented via remote assistance by experts with deeper knowledge when neccessary.

Simultaneously, we need to identify a number of career paths that enable those individuals who buck the trend of being part of a transitory workforce (and beyond the hyperbole there are many out there believe me) to grow within your company. Tap into the gamification instincts that are almost embedded in the root directory of Millennials by attaching gravitas, kudos and continual learning to roles where deep experience is built upon.

Ideally, such a two-tiered structure will ultimately allow you to utilise the emerging gig economy or contingent labour sectors - giving you flexibility within your staffing that could potentially be a major benefit to your P&L. A win-win all round. Alternatively, you could just ride it all out until the Gen Z cavalry arrives to quietly save the day just like us Gen Xers did for the ‘Boomers.