It’s Only Common Sense: Defining the New Labor Force

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The gap between employee and employer in business is now considered one of the biggest challenges we face today. Our hiring base is vastly different from what it always was; this is not the greatest generation or even the boomer generation. We must adapt if we want to meet our workforce requirements.

I grew up seldom seeing my father. No, he wasn’t traveling for work. He just worked hard, taking on any job that came his way. To him the chance to have a job and earn money was a privilege and an opportunity. I never saw him because of the long hours he worked.

This was his day: As a school bus driver, he arose at 5:30 a.m., picked up his bus, and started picking up students at 6:30 a.m. When that was done, he went to his morning job at a little market where he would stock shelves, make deliveries, and do whatever was needed for the next three hours. Then he would get back in his school bus, pick up and drop off the kindergarten kids, returning to pick up the elementary school students and take them home. Following his afternoon bus ride, he would start his normal eight-hour job as the school custodian.

He kept that schedule five days a week, but he didn’t rest on weekends. On Saturday nights, he tended bar at the local VFW. My father wasn’t the only one in my community who worked like this. Most of the other men I knew—my uncles and others in our neighborhood—had similar schedules.

When my boomer generation came along looking for jobs, we had to compete for everything. There were just too many of us and too few jobs. The only people qualified to work at McDonald’s when I was in high school were the best of the bunch. They had to be honor students and get this (sorry, ladies) they had to be boys. Believe it or not, it was a big deal when McDonald’s started hiring girls and some people back then thought that the service at McDonalds declined when they started hiring girls. With that kind of thinking, maybe the good old days weren’t so great after all.

We’re now seeing a very different workforce in very different times. Contrary to popular notions, the young people entering the workforce are not lazy, irresponsible, or entitled. No matter what the folks from my own generation like to say, I believe the younger people are brighter, smarter, and–in many cases–sharper than we were. Please do not come at me with your tired anecdotal evidence about the kid down the block who won’t even mow his mom’s lawn; we had our own bad examples, and we did not want them defining our own generation either.

Today’s younger workforce is better educated, smarter, and more confident than we ever were. But they have something that neither my generation nor my father’s generation had—they have choices. They can decide where they are going to spend their time.

They can be selective about where they work. They can be judgmental; they have solid opinions about the companies they will work with. They want these companies to have a social conscience and to have a take on social responsibility. They want to make sure that they work for a company that is helping the world, not hurting it. They want to work for companies that are doing good and noble things, producing products and services that benefit the world around them. They have social causes and responsibility with a passionate mission of making the world a better place.

We can roll our eyes all we want but this is the lay of the land today. The job candidates we get to choose from consider their time valuable—too valuable to do work they deem meaningless for companies that have little meaning.

You know, we can gripe about this all we want, but in the words of Tony Soprano, “It is what it is.” We created this generation. We brought them up to think for, and stand up for, themselves, and to be intolerant of the intolerable.

To succeed in moving our companies forward, we will do it with this workforce. This means we must adapt to their needs and their requirements for a good place to work. Otherwise, you’d better start saving your money for those robots.

It’s only common sense.

Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.


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