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At the Helm: The Millennial wave

By Jonathan Sweet

We spend a lot of time in the marine industry talking about reaching that next wave of younger customers.

Just as important, though, as preparing for them outside your company is preparing for them inside. Whether you call them Millennials, Echo Boomers or Generation Y, this generation of employees represents an unprecedented shift in the makeup of the workforce.

There are some 80 million Millennials (born between roughly 1982 and 2000) in the United States, much larger than Generation X and on par with the Baby Boomers. They are expected to make up about half the workforce by 2014 – up from just 35 percent in 2010.

As we all know, we’re in an industry that skews older in customers and employees, but that can’t last forever. So what do these landmark shifts mean for you?

“Millennials have grown up feeling wanted and important and will gravitate to employers who treat them like star players,” writes demographer Neal Howe in “Millennials in the Workplace.” Howe, a rock star among demographers if there is such a thing, has been studying generational differences and Millennials in particular since the 1990s.

Now, broad generalities are just that – broad. Every person is different, but these are some of the key “to-dos” Howe identifies for managing Millennials.

Treat them like VIPs – Offer one-on-one attention and develop mentoring programs. Leverage their desire to feel special by demanding more of them.

Find them early – Millennials make career decisions earlier than older generations did. Develop relationships with local schools and youth groups to try to attract them to the industry.

Offer structure – Millennials want rules, structure and stability. Provide detailed job descriptions and explicit goals with clearly defined responsibilities.

Provide tight cycles of feedback – They’ve been used to constant feedback, so instead of an annual performance review, Howe recommends implementing monthly or even weekly check-ins. Develop policies and systems to give regular, detailed feedback.

Don’t offer a “McJob” – Unlike Generation Xers, most Millennials say they would prefer to stay with one company for the long-term. Emphasize the long-term growth potential in your company. Talk about ways to advance and other opportunities to improve.

Be active in the community – Millennials are participating in community service at higher levels than Xers did at the same age. Give employees the opportunity for community involvement through your company, emphasizing any fundraisers, etc., that you do for schools, youth groups, etc.

Take an interest in your success – Boomers resisted being educated by “the system,” but their children have embraced it. Offer ongoing training and development so young workers can continue to improve their skills, whether it’s sales techniques, service tech classes or customer service improvements.


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