Shawn Graham is an associate director with the MBA Career Management Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hills' Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is also author of "Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job". I recently asked him some questions regarding young workers:
You are on the front lines of helping college graduates and young professionals find a job. What strengths do you think they bring to the workplace today?
Young professionals bring a fresh perspective to the workplace that can lead to exciting new initiatives and creative solutions to existing challenges. And because they’re amped up and ready to go, they bring a great deal of energy to the table that can reinvigorate other members of the team. But that same “can do” attitude can also lead to one of the biggest challenges faced by new professionals…how to bring new ideas and energy without appearing as a “know it all” to the people already at the company who bring years of experience to the table?
On the other hand, what areas should an employer expect to provide some support or training -- areas that are "weaker" for these young employees?
Young professionals can definitely benefit from additional training on how a particular business operates. All the education in the world is great, but for them to be ultimately successful they need a structured training program to teach them the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances of the business. If they have limited experience in a particular functional area or they need work on their presentation skills, an employer will often provide skill building opportunities and resources to help them get up to speed quickly.
Even though they may lack experience, how can younger workers make themselves a valuable part of a company?
They should look for, and take advantage of, any and all opportunities that present themselves. Early in their career, it’s important that they be willing to roll their sleeves up to pitch in on projects and do whatever needs to be done. This can be a tough pill to swallow for some, as they might think graduating from college means a fast track to being the CEO of the company within their first 12 months on the job. Volunteering for projects also gives them exposure to people across the organization which can help build their professional network.
There's been discussion about "generational" disagreements in the workplace between young employees and those with more experience. Do you think this is an exaggeration? Why or why not?
Great question. I think there’s some validity to the discussion. However, I think disagreements typically have less to do with generational differences, and more to do with communication and management styles. As someone who would be categorized as a “Gen X’r,” I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten into a disagreement with someone in the workplace because of generational differences. Instead, it seems like a lot of disagreements are based on the way employees approach a particular topic or issue. Instead of focusing on the differences between the two groups, as in any case when you’re trying to establish a dialogue, it’s important to find a common ground.
Can you provide a few tips on how older workers can better work with, and understand, the younger worker?
The first thing they can do is remember how they felt when they were coming into a new job as a freshly minted young professional. There’s a pretty good chance they didn’t always get along or see eye to eye with those within the organization who had years of experience. They can also look for ways to leverage the strengths the younger workers bring to the table. That will not only the more experienced workers better appreciate their contributions, but it will also give the younger employees a chance to feel like they’re making a difference. Adaptability is also a must. If someone has a new idea or a different way of doing things, have the flexibility to give it a try.