If you gather any group of men my age and older, eventually the topic will turn to the sad state of the generations coming up behind us. This is nothing new; it’s been going on for centuries, and will continue to take place long after we’re gone.
Steel conferences are typically no exception. In the past, “millennial” may not have been a true four-letter word, but the word was also rarely spoken with reverence. Tales of entitlement brought on by participation trophies and helicopter parents, laments about their inability to deal with humans after growing up with a face buried in a phone, and complaints about a general lack of a strong work ethic are common.
Thus, it was refreshing in late August when this next generation of workers was not discussed for their flaws, or perceived flaws, but their potential. At the Steel Market Update Steel Summit in Atlanta, a full panel of industry participants, all of them high-achieving members of the millennial cohort, discussed the ways and means of bringing these people into the fold. It was highly instructive, with solid ideas for attracting talent, training talent and retaining talent (a complete roundup of their thoughts can be found in this month’s Business Topics).
Before them, Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics, flipped the script, discussing millennials not in terms of the damage they’ll do, but with confidence in their ability to make some necessary repairs. “Millennials are a force to be reckoned with, but they’re a force for good. They will fix the mistakes my generation made,” Beaulieu said.
He also noted that, contrary to popular opinion, the younger generation is not abandoning the important trappings of adulthood that historically drive the domestic economy. “They’re leaving the urban setting as they enter their 30s. They’re buying SUVs and doing exactly what we would have done. That means strength for the economy,” he said.
Ultimately, whether you are someone who believes in the potential of the group or an individual who see nothing but trouble ahead is immaterial. Like it or not, millennials will lead the metals industry into the next decade and beyond. The modern steel supply chain is skewed toward experience, with a wave of industry leaders on the doorstep of retirement. The cohort that followed, Generation X, is not just small in number, but largely missing from the manufacturing sector.
That leaves millennials, those twenty- and thirty-somethings, to do the heavy lifting. It’s up to you to find them. You can hire them begrudgingly. Or you can take the steps necessary to find the very best ones—the young men and women who will not just lead your company into the future, but help your business make the most of the present.