The Cross-Generational Workforce

A table at the 2019 Transportation Director Summit at STN EXPO Reno is deep in discussion.
A table at the 2019 Transportation Director Summit at STN EXPO Reno is deep in discussion.

I have noticed recently that a lot of school transportation professionals I know are retiring. Many started out as drivers or mechanics and moved up the transportation ladder over their 30-year careers at one or multiple school districts. Some are retiring completely, while others are going into consulting or are moving into the private supplier side of the business.

But who will take their place as the next generation of school transportation leaders? Who from the Millennial set, specifically, will step into that role?

I see the younger generation already moving to fill that leadership gap. It won’t happen overnight, but it is happening faster than you might realize for our industry.

According to Forbes, it’s common for Millennials to bear the brunt of professional criticism in both the workplace and on social media, when discussing the current makeup of the multi-generational workforce.

They’re often called out for a supposed inability to meet established business expectations of professionalism. This strife stems in part from the fact that Generation X and Baby Boomers are similar in their work styles. They do what they are told, they follow the status quo and they have a high sense of obligation.

Millennials, meanwhile, are recreating the wheel. The Millennial generation is calling business norms into question. For many older employees, it’s a struggle to work with them.

Millennials want work that both enables them to contribute to society in positive ways and that rewards them appropriately. One is not a substitute for the other. It’s important to make sure that your cross-generational workforce understands how your school transportation operation or company is having a positive impact and how their work directly contributes to the overall goals.

“You can provide an environment where Millennials can be both happy and effective without ruining your organization, if you focus on what actually is important to them,” said Jennifer Deal, author of “What Millennials Want from Work.”

Deal continues that Millennials want to have a say in an organization by contributing their ideas. They resist doing repetitive or boring work. They want to have a life outside of work and expect enough flexibility to allow them to fulfill both their personal and professional commitments. They work long hours, don’t expect work to stop when they leave the office and are quite motivated. They want to contribute beyond their job descriptions and move up in the organization.

Millennials are comfortable with technology, too. They have grown up with it, and it is woven into their friendships and everyday activities. Millennials love technology at work because it reduces drudgery and saves them time. But just because they spend so much time attached to one tech toy or another, that doesn’t mean that they find personal interactions aren’t essential. In fact, feeling like they have a community at work is a determining factor in Millennials’ organizational commitment, job satisfaction, engagement and retention.

Allow your Millennial team members the freedom to pursue what excites them about their work. Operate as a mentor by giving clear expectations about their deliverables but let them help direct their work. You can help them prioritize. Give direction and boundaries without squashing their creative and ideological energies. Then, watch them take your operation in directions you’d never have considered on your own.

Also, consider that the new type of Millennial parents have children old enough to ride the school bus. They will push for similar ideals as your changing workforce and will challenge the status quo. Plus, they have a strong affinity for technology like mobile tracking apps, Wi-Fi and alternative energy school buses in their communities. These young parents are digitally engaged via the internet and social media networks to meet their communication and information needs.

Be sure to focus on the ever-changing, cross-generational workforce of the future because your customers are already demanding it.