SPECIAL FEATURE: Education/Training - Managing Age and Experience Differences
Bridging the gap between young, fresh-out-of-school employees and the senior staff must be done through planned technical and motivational training programs.
|With respect to age differences, there are the concurrent issues of education, training and attitude toward the value of experience. From a functional manager's perspective, adoption of new technology and benefits of experience to evaluate its applicability is a troubling task. The young engineers and technicians come to the job fresh with the latest technological tools, be it from college or trade school. They know how to use the latest dynamic programming and simulation techniques or computer options. They handle the laptop features and surf the Internet instinctively without asking why. They simply say when you do this, this is what shows up on the liquid crystal display, this is how you transfer these files, rotate this view, etc. They live in a digital world. This of course does not mean that those with some gray in their hair cannot do the same, but it does mean that they have to make a special effort to stay abreast or catch up.
Closing the GapOn the other hand, the fascinating advances of the very visible and publicized technologies place into the distant background the core of industry and the experience on which it is based. For example, the efficient production of oil, delivery of clean drinking water, waste disposal, the manufacturing of parts for fuel-efficient cars and the total quality aspects of the production of food and pharmaceuticals are all vital. Computer literate MBAs are not going to ensure that plants will run efficiently or new innovations will come into practice without some experience of simply doing it. The famous Murphy's Law, i.e. anything that can go wrong will, has validity in practice.
The young need to recognize this. The whole issue boils down to an aspect of knowledge management (see sidebar 1). In many traditional operations, this gap between the young technicians and the older experienced personnel is more apparent in the production department and plant operations than anywhere else. The gap must be bridged between the young, fresh-out-of-school employees and the senior staff. This must be done through planned training programs. Some of these may require technical training while others need motivational training.
Training OpportunitiesProfessional societies, trade associations and universities offer a variety of technical training courses. At a minimum, these will bring awareness of the gaps and a stimulus for self-study and the honing of skills. Motivational training can be through individual consultants, professional societies and continuous education programs at various local education institutes.
One particular tool that may be helpful to point out any training needs in management of diversity is the Baldridge Award criteria from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (see NIST table at end of article). The implementation of the suggested criteria, by itself, does not guarantee business success. It benchmarks and provides a mature view of a business operation as it is affected by the synergy of its functions. The criteria forces a review of a balance of technical, social and business aspects that have an impact on the overall performance of operations (see sidebar 2). Since the intent of the criteria is for the self-analysis of a firm with respect to its competitiveness, they should be understood and appreciated by all. However, leadership's significance, the appreciation of strategic planning and its deployment problems, customer relations and business impact in particular may be lacking in those entering operations organization directly from a purely technical training program. Therefore, their greatest value is to be noticed by the novices in the industry.
The Young Bring Value to the Future
The diversity gap between the young and the old, if not addressed, can widen and operations management can become more difficult in the future. After all, most new technicians, craftsmen, engineers and scientists are recruited into operations for their technical skills. Their input is the advanced techniques that they bring to the table. They get applauded for their technical innovations. They are busy keeping up with the technology advances in their specialty. Through a narrow view, management may be reticent in diverting them to broader training. This would be a mistake. It would make the gap widen and diversity management more difficult.
This is a technologically advanced world; it is essential and beneficial for any company that the gap between the young and experienced is narrowed. The greatest value in this could be an edge over competition, advances in organizational techniques or it may just help employees communicate, and in turn, improve customer relations.
This article is an excerpt from Managing Technology Dependent Operations: An Executive's Toolbox, published by the Manufacturing Productivity Center, Ltd., Chicago, 2004.
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