Road Warrior

Three Generations in the Workforce

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During a recent ag lender training session in Charlotte, N.C., Ronnie Hucks, VP of AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, discussed an interesting observation. This is the first time in history that three generations have been in the workforce during the same time span. Let’s take this subject deeper and examine some of its implications.

First of all, three generations are in the workforce because many baby boomers are working longer due to the losses incurred in their retirement accounts in the recent economic crisis, along with extended health insurance benefits and the overall enjoyment and satisfaction of their work. Organizations also have placed a value on their institutional knowledge and experience.

One of the keys to success in business today is to create mentoring cultures where the younger generation can gain valuable knowledge from the seniors. However, it can also work in reverse. Some savvy folks from the older generation are seeking guidance from the younger set in areas of technology, cutting edge knowledge and methods in the workforce.

This winter in my speaking series, I have noticed a number of senior generation farm and agribusiness people opening up and allowing the younger generation to challenge their paradigms and approaches to production, risk management and finance. This is critical not only for the success of farm and ranch family businesses, but agribusinesses and ag lenders as well.

Some organizations are now appointing people from the younger generation to boards of directors and advisory boards to help connect with the next generation. Other businesses are going outside the family to bring in younger expertise.

There is a set of valuable characteristics that transcends generations. The key is not to recruit, but select individuals with a good attitude. Work ethic, passion, reliability, problem solving skills and initiative are also characteristics that built American business. The key is to develop and nourish a culture that rewards these attributes regardless of the generations involved.

Even with all the discussions about intergenerational conflict in the workplace, in my travels I have noticed progressive individuals and businesses are aligning with talent, regardless of the generation.

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What's Road Warrior?

Dave Kohl is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He can be reached at sullylab@vt.edu.

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