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How to bridge IT’s growing generation gap

Minda Zetlin | Aug. 23, 2017
Deft leadership and management skills and a lot of empathy are required to balance the priorities and expectations of millennials, baby boomers and the Gen X-ers stuck between them.


An impending knowledge gap?

The youngest baby boomers are into their 50s, and the oldest are in their 70s. That means retirement is likely to be top of mind for many of them over the next few years. If some of your key employees are in this age group and they have institutional knowledge or legacy skills that your company needs, it's time to start preparing for their departures.

Gartner's Mok recommends workforce planning that considers demographics and identifies "vulnerable" areas where key people will be retiring. "You can build a pipeline of future talent ahead of time to fill in those roles," she says. If you wait until the last minute, you may have to hire contractors to fill the gaps."

Lily Mok, research vice president, Gartner [2016] 
Lily Mok, Gartner. Credit: Gartner

Another priority should be capturing as much institutional knowledge as you can before employees leave. "There are different approaches using knowledge management systems or recording videos," she says. "And using experienced employees as coaches and mentors to the younger generation. That's an important aspect of maintaining your organization and ensuring your continued capability to deliver high-quality services."

It's also smart to put more long-term employees squarely in the spotlight, for both new employees and customers, says Capgemini's Smith. "Sometimes it's a more positive investment to take people who've been with your company a long time and make them part of the onboarding process, or program management," she says. "You find people who've been in IT for decades and they're part of innovation centers and customer experience centers. And frankly, customers take them very seriously. This is a marathon, not a sprint."

Mok recommends a formal mentoring program. "The rapport has to be established between mentor and mentee, but you can facilitate, provide resources, and allow them to allocate time to mentoring because it is a time and resource commitment," she says, adding that it's well worth the investment because 70 percent of learning takes place on the job.

Contract management company SpringCM takes things one step further by pairing young employees and senior employees so they can write code together on one computer, using two keyboards and two mice. "Usually you have a driver and a passenger, the driver writing the code and the passenger adding to the code and lending ideas, and they switch back and forth throughout the day," says Papatsaras. One big benefit? "A new millennial coming in can write code on day one," he says.

While millennials can benefit by learning from their older colleagues, keep in mind that the reverse is also true. "We said previously that a mentoring or coaching relationship goes in one direction with the younger generation learning from seasoned staff," Mok says. "But in today's world, it really should be bidirectional. Younger employees know some of the new technology and can quickly adapt to it — they can be great coaches for senior staff. There's knowledge transfer from old to new and new to old."


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