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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the April 30, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Excerpt: `Generations Collide’

In this excerpt from When Generations Collide, a book

by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman, who speak at the

first annual Cornerstone New Jersey Weekend on May 2 and May 3 in

Cape May, the authors talk about how easy it is to overlook whole

groups of job candidates, and explain why it is a mistake to do so:

Mining for silver. Companies today are so focused on attracting

young people that they are ignoring one of their most valuable resources

— Traditionalist employees. Traditionalists, the group born prior

to 1946, have the skills, qualifications, experience, and maturity

organizations need to retain, and they’re right under our noses. Rather

than losing them, companies need to springboard them back into the

labor pool long before they all end up poolside in Miami. Unfortunately,

in our survey, a surprising 40 percent of Traditionalists disagreed

with the statement "My company does a good job making me want

to stay."

As employers continue to fight the war for talent, they complain constantly

about the quality of applicants. Yet applicants of quality are right

under their noses. Traditionalists are ready, willing, and able to

work if only we can look past a few gray hairs and see the characteristics

that truly made them the greatest generation.

Traditionalists are the generation that invented the one-page resume.

Job-hopping was almost unheard of, and many stayed with the same company

their whole career. Ralph Thorp, a 71-year-old district representative

for Lutheran Brotherhood, has been with that company 44 years. "When

I do retire," he commented, "I want to be sure my customers

are taken care of. The company relies on me for that." How many

would kill to have Ralph’s attitude rub off on their employees?

In times of rapid change, these seasoned workers can provide much

needed continuity. They’ve lived a company’s legacy, and they need

to be around to share it so that customers are served, mistakes get

made only once, and golden opportunities are not missed. Ralph Thorp

is busy training younger salespeople. "I have a history to share,"

he says, "and best of all, they are interested in listening. We

can learn from each other."

The good news is that most Traditionalists have bigger plans than

sitting on a porch swing all day drinking ice tea. The bad news is

that most managers aren’t so good at identifying the high potential

Traditionalist candidates. They might be great at singling out the

25-to-35 year-old with spunk, but few are taking time to spot the

62-year-old with the energy to morph into new roles.

Attracting the best young workers. Unfortunately, when

it comes to Millennials, workers born after 1982, organizations are

making two costly assumptions:

Some assume that the Millennials will be just like those who have

gone before them. Nothing could be further from the truth. If there’s

one thing we’ve learned about the generations, it’s that each one

has its own generational personality. Organizations will have to get

to know the Millennials without making the same mistake so many made

with Generation X.

Millennials, too, will have a unique set of values and expectations

about work, and unless their viewpoints are clearly understood, history

is bound to repeat itself.

Others assume there’s no hurry to get to know the Millennials —

after all, most companies are still struggling to figure out Generation

X! The fact is, the time to recruit them is now.

In many industries, such as high tech, Millennials are being recruited

while they’re still in trade school, high school, or college. At Vir2L,

one of the hottest Web design firms, the average age of a top designer

isn’t 25 to 45; it’s 17 to 24! Smart industries are forming connections

with schools through internship programs and mentoring opportunities

that can introduce Millennials to their companies in positive ways

— long before they’re ready to hit the workforce full time.

The Fibre Box Association, for one, isn’t waiting around until the

Millennials have all decided where they want to work. It can’t afford

to. The Fibre Box people know that not many Millennial designers are

sitting around computer screens pondering the future of the litho

label. So Fibre Box has gone on the offensive and formed relationships

with trade schools to introduce Millennials in computer-aided design

programs to the industry. It’s a real eye-opener for young designers

who might never have thought about where that colorful Cap’n Crunch

box came from. By providing job placement opportunities with the manufacturers

who are their members, this old world industry is carving out a brave

new world by opening Millennials’ eyes to an exciting career option.

Creating new niches. If you always go where you always

went, you’ll always get what you always got. To find new employees

to fill new niches, you’re going to have to step outside the status

quo. Sometimes this means tapping into a generation you’ve never hired

before. Other times that’s not enough. But once you understand who

the generations are and what makes them tick, you can use that knowledge

to discover generational niches that are the equivalent of buried


To fill a niche, create an itch. Some of the toughest

recruiting battles in the country are being waged in the field of

education. As the Millennial boom has exploded into schools, the battle

to fill teaching positions has reached crisis proportions. In California

alone, 200,000 teachers will be needed in the next 10 years. In Minneapolis,

Minnesota, districts have had to hire so rapidly that 65 percent of

the city’s teachers have less than five years’ experience.

Newsweek reported that administrators in Chicago are

recruiting retirees as a way of boosting the rolls of available substitute

teachers. "Creating an itch" means first finding the retired

teachers, letting them know how much they are needed as subs, and

then providing transportation to and from school via van shuttles.

It seems senior subs tend to turn down assignments located too far

from public transportation, but they’ll fill a niche if they have

a built-in way of getting to and from work.

To bring in the Boomers, Las Vegas’s Clark County School District

has developed a new program called E-March, aimed at snatching up

retiring military officers.

That means getting out to military bases and targeting those 40 and

50-year-olds who have put in the 20 years necessary to be eligible

for a full pension and enticing them with the idea of a new career.

But the Las Vegas district doesn’t stop there. To extend a hand to

Xers, it is enticing them with promises of year-round sunshine, sans

blizzards and state income tax. For candidates who can’t afford to

fly to Vegas for an interview, the district provides high-tech videophones

to interview them remotely. Techno-flexibility has convinced Gen X

teachers from 42 states to pack their bags and relocate.

Find somebody else’s niche and steal it. Farmers Insurance,

which has been experiencing a dearth of qualified candidates to become

insurance agents, is doing its part to make the teacher shortage even

worse. The company created a profile of who makes the best agents

and then opened their minds to search the universe for where that

new niche of candidates might exist.

Boomers and Xers who are established, successful teachers sprang to

mind and onto the pages of a new recruiting campaign. While it’s probably

not too popular with school principals, the Farmers strategy makes

sense. Schoolteachers are well-organized, people-oriented self-starters

with vast numbers of contacts within their communities to help them

get launched in sales.

Create a new identity entity. If all else fails in the

effort to identify creative new generational niches, you might have

to create your own. The CIA did just that in Silicon Valley. Unable

to compete for the brightest Generation X workers and the hottest

new technology against the glitz, glamour, and cold hard capital of

Silicon Valley, the CIA decided to become a player.

The result is a newly formed venture capital company called In-Q-Tel,

a private nonprofit funded with $28 million authorized by Congress.

Its mission is to "invest in high-tech start-ups that will help

the spy agency regain the edge in gizmos and gadgets that it once

held over the private sector."

Forming a new entity with a hipper style enables the CIA to get the

best of both-access to the Gen Xers they want and acquisition of the

technologies they need to thrive in an, increasingly competitive global

environment. Even In-Q-Tel’s style is a sharp departure from the buttoned-down

recruiting approach you might expect. Their website promises freewheeling

techies the opportunity to work on "cool s-!"

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