Using generational differences as an advantage

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Like any of successful business, trucking companies would enjoy a brighter future if they can “zap the generational gap.”

During a motivational speech at Omnitracs Outlook 2020 in Las Vegas, Nev., father-daughter duo Larry and Meagan Johnson said it is important for carriers to embrace generational differences, while accepting each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

“How can we take multiple generations and continue this incredible business, and get goods from one place to another?” Meagan questioned attendees, highlighting some of the distinctions between Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials.

Employing audience participation, Meagan pointed to some perceptions each generation has of the other. Millennials, for example, often believe Baby Boomers are old-fashioned, set in their ways, resistant to change, and against technology. On the other hand, they also see them as having a strong work ethic, disciplined, and experienced.

Baby Boomers see Millennials as lazy, entitled, against hard work, and too sensitive, while also saying they are good with technology, energetic, and open to new ideas.

Displaying a litany of adjectives Baby Boomers use to negatively describe younger generations, Meagan revealed the list was taken from Life magazine in 1968 on how Baby Boomers were being described at the time by Traditionalists, proving that attitudes and perceptions about younger generations have been consistent for decades.

“We use the same words to describe every generation,” she said. “Really what we are describing is a youthful generation.”

Authors of the best-selling book Generations Inc., Larry and Meagan say the reason behind the generational gap is something they call a generational signpost, which is described as something that is unique to a particular group and influences their character. These signposts can be anything from world events (the Great Depression, world wars), technology (TV, smartphones), or any unique situation they grew up within.

Omnitracs Outlook 2020
Larry, left, and Meagan Johnson.

Using a quote from Omnitracs CEO Ray Greer, Meagan shed some light on how today’s generation gains and retains knowledge compared to those from decades past.

“The pace of knowledge transfer is twenty times faster than previous generations,” the Greer quote stated. “We have this unconscious bias that younger professionals are too young to know what is right because we learned though the school of hard knocks.”

The quote goes on to say that people in Greer’s generation did not have the same opportunities that Millennials have today, and that can sometimes cause a divide.

Millennials – a population that numbers 80 million in the U.S., the largest of any group – are also the first generation to grow up with heavy parental involvement. By comparison, Gen Xers – the smallest group, making up 13% of the population – were the first to be described as latchkey kids, meaning they were without each parent for long periods of time because both were working, which led to this generation being more independent than any other.

All these differences equate to varying sets of priorities when it comes to a professional career.

As Meagan points out, constant feedback is important to Millennials, with 60% saying they like to connect with their managers at least once a day.

Another 40% want feedback on their job performance every week, and 70% are satisfied with their employment if they are given detailed feedback from their supervisors.

But with many in the trucking industry described as being “set in their ways,” it poses a challenge bringing in young workers.

Using another quote form Omnitracs sales engineer John Hendon, Larry and Meagan showed how this attitude can lead to recruitment difficulties.

“Some fleet owners are set in their ways. They have the, “This is the way we have always done it” mentality,” said Hendon’s quote. “The drawback is you sometimes miss recognizing the benefit of technology and how it can only make the drivers’ lives easier, but save the company money. Millennials are not looking at trucking as a career. Millennials are more health conscious and experience-driven than previous generations.”

Hendon said in order to attract Millennials into trucking, the industry must make the investment to create an environment young people will be attracted to.

Larry underscore an important point when it comes to Baby Boomers – when they all retire, what impact will that have on our economy?

He urged younger generations to extract the years of knowledge Baby Boomers have acquired before they walk out the door and call it quits.

Meagan agreed, adding that older generations need to accept the differences between them and Millennials, open their doors, and offer new opportunities.

“We have young people in this room today who are excited to be in this industry,” she said, “who we dismiss because they do things differently.”

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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