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Communicating with the Next-Gen Employee – Are You Ready?

by Dianna Brodine

Plastics Business

I recently asked my 14-year-old daughter to email a photo to me. Her reply – accompanied by an eye roll – was, "No one emails anymore, mom."

If I wanted a copy of the photo, my options were varied, according to my daughter. She could post it to Instagram, forward it via iMessage or send me a SnapChat. She could pin it to her Pinterest account or, if I wanted to see the photographed event recreated, she and her friends could video it with Vine.

If I need more examples as to how "out of touch" I'm becoming, I don't need to look far. In the school setting, our local high school kids are collaborating on projects outside of the classroom by using Skype, messaging on internal bulletin boards and posting videos to Vine or YouTube to show progress. Rather than wait until the next school day to communicate with their teachers, they're instant messaging questions and receiving immediate replies. Frustrated by their inability to travel to all of the away basketball games, a team of students paired up with the district's technology department to launch a game day webcast, complete with play-by-play commentary and business community advertising sponsors. Today's students don't just use technology – it's completely integrated into every aspect of their lives.

In four years, my daughter will graduate from high school. In eight years, she will be one of the bright young things emerging from college and finding her career path. Today's teens communicate in an entirely unfamiliar way, and they turn to technology when there are problems to be solved. Employers hoping to attract the best and brightest to their facilities need to be prepared.

Teachers are adapting educational methods to work within such a framework. Is your business prepared to do the same? How will you share project data and customer specifications? Are there more tech-oriented ways to hold the daily operations meeting? What information is currently being sent via email – and will your future employees read it?

Maybe you believe that you shouldn't have to adapt your business. After all, these kids want to work in your business, right? But those same next-gen employees will be taking jobs with your customers and suppliers, too. Are you ready to talk with them?

The next issue of Plastics Business will contain an article about encouraging STEM initiatives in local communities. I've spoken with several companies that are offering tours or internships to teach youth about opportunities in manufacturing, but the smart processors also are learning from the students. High school-aged interns are creating promotional videos, posting to social media accounts and speaking to their peers about the prospects for STEM careers.

It's time for manufacturing companies to "talk the talk". LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest... these are the tip of the iceberg. Branch out by exploring some of the new communication methods. Or hire one of those savvy students to teach you what you need to know.