Age with dignity—and a protégé

Engineers need to work with Generation X and Y employees to shore up their firm’s knowledge base.


Age. That little three-letter word has so many connotations. For some, age equates with wisdom. It means that a person is well-traveled, has a life rich with family and friends, and is financially secure. For others, it means frailty, physical ailments, or mental concerns. Age also brings pain and suffering, loss of friends and family, and an uncertain future. Most would agree that, however you look at it, with age comes experience, born of seeing and doing many things throughout life.

In the United States, we have an aging populating. “The silent generation” or “traditionalists” (born 1927 to 1945) are dying, and baby boomers have become leaders in the workplace and the community. Baby boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, are turning 65 (retirement age) at a rate of 10,000 people per day, according to Pew Research Center population projections. While many baby boomers are delaying retirement due to financial issues, the rate of knowledge loss is still high. As these wise, experienced people leave the workforce, we are losing their been-there, done-that expertise. In discussions with many of you, I’ve heard stories about long-term relationships with clients evaporating when someone retires, or team leadership retiring right along with an individual.

Many studies have looked at how each generation treats—and should be treated in—the workplace. If you’re not familiar with these reports on how each age group acts and reacts, I encourage you to find a couple of reputable sources to help you define your firm and employees. For example, this paper, “Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, and Millennials: Giving and Getting the Mentoring You Want,”  from Cathy A. Trower, PhD, at Brown University breaks down each of the four generations working side-by-side in simple formats. In our monthly Career Smart column, we cover mentoring, hiring, and retaining company knowledge—all quick reads with several references.

40 Under 40While the topic of succession planning has been covered here before, I again urge you to ensure your firm—small or large—has a plan in place to port knowledge from older, wiser team members to younger, less experienced engineers. As we plan for the future of building engineering, we need to look to the Generation X employees who are already leading in their own resourceful ways. Generation X, born 1965 to 1980, typically is characterized as college educated, highly adaptive, and self-reliant. You can meet several Gen X leaders in the 40 Under 40 section.

Millennials (also known as Generation Y, born 1981 to 2000), who are quickly moving into leadership and management positions, also need to be groomed to be principals or team leaders. While they lean toward using technology to communicate (think texting, social media, or e-mail), they also can use this technology to leverage themselves within a firm. Achievement-oriented, team player, and committed individuals fall into this group.

One positive aspect of aging: We all age at the same pace. Take the time now to help your junior team members gain wisdom and knowledge before the elder engineers leave.

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