How Do You Cross the Generational Divide?

Aug. 1, 2012
The fact is, in the United States today, there are fewer young people getting into the technical, engineering, and energy aspects of our economy than at any time previously.

The title is a question that I’ve heard over the years, mostly from contractors and facility managers who struggle to find good field-service and installation technicians. The fact is, in the United States today, there are fewer young people getting into the technical, engineering, and energy aspects of our economy than at any time previously.

In an article written for HPAC Engineering in 2010, Albert Thumann, CEM, PE of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) says 41 percent of its 11,000 members are planning to retire in the next 10 years ( This was based on a study that AEE did that year and although it’s two years old, the results are still pertinent.

Thumann also says that 72 percent foresee an increased shortage of qualified professionals within the energy-efficiency and renewable-energy fields in the next five years.

Though a microcosm of this industry, I believe it’s representative of the issue across the board. So where will new members of our community come from? In a word, “kids.” I don’t mean that in a derogatory way at all—young people are the source of the intelligence and drive that make this country go. However, young people today are a wee bit different than those of my generation and before.

These kids are members of Generation Y (as in, “why do I have to do it the way you say it must be done?”).

First, they don’t really think like us Baby Boomers. They approach problems differently. My eldest son, who epitomizes Gen Y, tells me that his generation thinks “digitally” while my generation thinks “linearly” (his words).

Gen Yers generally aren’t willing to sit back and “pay their dues” and, though they have an amazing work ethic, it doesn’t necessarily match our definition of what that means.

I’m sure many of you have Gen Y people working at your firms, in your buildings, for your customers and supplers. So how do you work with them?

A year ago, I had the pleasure of hearing an expert on dealing with Gen Y people speak during the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) Annual meeting. His name is Jason Dorsey and he dubs himself as the Gen Y Guy. He’s actually a Gen Y guy, himself.

Dorsey says managing across generations is something that is fairly new because today there are four generations of people living and working together, and that poses interesting problems when it comes to the workplace. There are communications, process, and professionalism issues, to mention a few.

According to Dorsey, to succeed at managing such a varied group, mangers must recogenize the advantage created by integrating each generation’s strengths, differences, and life-styles. In fact, I believe this is also key to attracting young people into the industry. Your reputation as an employer is more important today than ever before, and young people think about that when considering where to work.

If you want to hear Jason Dorsey, join us in Chicago this September for Mechanical Systems Week ( He is the opening keynote speaker and is both informative and entertaining. In the end, learning how to deal with several generations is how you cross the divide and attract more people to our industry and your firm.

I am very interested in how you are adapting to the changes in our workforce and what you do to attract good technical/engineering people to your business. Please email me or Tweet me @HPACEng.

Send comments and suggestions to [email protected].