Assoc. Prof. Ir. Dr. Mohd. Shahir Liew from Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) is the current Vice President of MSSA for the 2015-2017 term of office. He prioritises the sustainability of engineering for communal purposes. Claiming that competency development is a specialty of his, Prof. Shahir delivered a workshop entitled “Competency Challenges for the Future Industry: A Future Fast Forward.” Prof. Shahir’s definition of generational gap does not constitute the differences in age between the young and old. On the contrary, he defined it as the differences in mentality and lifestyle of people in the face of the ever-progressing technology and modernity. In other words, the new generation is defined by how well they adapt to the current times whereas the old generation is described by how they still retain the mind-set of the way things used to work in the past.
Somewhat an expansion of the seminar by Mr. Lim Eu Shawn who focused more on the question of the problems with the new generation and how there was a need for them to take a leaf out of their elders’ books last year; Prof. Shahir’s perspective on the importance of understanding how the different generations work and thus, sharing the differences both physically and virtually, was a refreshing outlook in terms of adapting to the changes in time. A simple yet sharp example given to explain the differences in generational mind-set was the fact that people in the past would rather walk the extra mile in order to save money as opposed to now whereby people would rather spend more generously in order to save time. Although most would criticise the latter, Prof. Shahir explained that both concepts are commendable given that evolution means that people adapt to the times, and times have definitely changed. In fact, it would be so much better if these differences in mind-sets could be integrated into the current lifestyle instead of treating them as mutually exclusive.
Integrating the workings of these different generational mind-sets requires an understanding of how their minds work in terms of their location in time. It is important to stress that technology progresses with time. Therefore, those who exhibit a lack of exposure to technology bear the characteristics of people born between 1966 and 1977 (Gen-X) which was when technology was still very new, whereas those who are technology-savvy portray the characteristics of those born between 1978 and 1995 (Gen-Y) which was when technology was rapidly progressing. It should be noted that a person could be born in 1985 with the mind-set of a Gen-X as his or her exposure to technology was not as extensive, as similarly as that another person could be a Gen-Y even if he or she were to be born in 1975 because he/she is technology-savvy and uses it in every area of life. These differences in behaviour stem from a lot of different factors, including but not limited to, religious backgrounds, ethnical segregations, as well as age and gender gaps. Only by eliminating these differences can there be total integration in terms of generational dissimilarities within the workforce.
In order to deflect the abovementioned factors contributing to the lack of integration within the workforce, those of differing generational mind-sets should try to adapt to the times by complementing each other. Based on a case study, it is unfortunate that many companies currently practice having people from the older generation taking over their panels of board members, when they could have extended the positions to the younger generation, which will in turn reduce the issue of generational gaps. This may have been brought about as a result of the stereotypical notion that the younger generation have attitudinal problems. However, this stereotype is baseless because social norms change gradually and it is arguable that they are unrelated to the emergence of a new generation. Due to this, the society is encouraged to change their perspectives on the younger generation by crediting their successes, such as the likes of Uber and eBay, instead.
Having said that, the role of thriving to bridge the generational gap does not solely lie on the shoulders of the older generation. In order to promote integration, both the older and younger generations must collaborate regardless of their generational differences. Although digital skills is a commendable ability to acquire for future employees, soft skills in terms of adaptability, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving, will also be invaluable in future workplaces. This is because generational diversity can be maintained and managed by using soft skills. It is important to create a diversity of generation in the workplace due to the wealth of knowledge and experiences each generation can offer.
In order to achieve generational diversity in the workplace, the fact that there are more similarities than differences between the two generations, such as the fact that they both want flexibility in the workplace, professional growth, desire for respect, as well as ethical leaders and company which they can be proud of, must be understood and comprehended. Next, communication should be done smartly, whereby messages should be tailored to be heard more effectively. This can be done by adapting the split-level meeting system where the younger employees are directly addressed to by those multiple levels above them, as well as the flat organisational structure where the top management is in direct contact even with entry-level employees. Furthermore, proper incentives should also be given according to the talents of each generation. For example, those with Gen-X characteristics should be given independence and freedom so as to promote creativity, whereas those with Gen-Y characteristics should be given more opportunities and meaningful work in order to recognise and value their contributions. Moreover, any kinds of biasness should always be in check within the workplace to encourage generational diversity. This is because a co-worker, no matter how young, may know more about some things than the top-level management do, and the sharing of information can be a useful two-way street. Apart from that, workplaces should also acquire strong knowledge-management skills. This is because, being open to learning from each other can assist in achieving generational diversity.
As a conclusion, integrational workplace challenges are a reality. However, acquiring and practicing the right soft skills and attitude are the keys in thriving towards the common aim. Prof. Shahir ended his workshop with a subtle yet powerful advice, which is to always accept and welcome change and try to see things in different perspectives. Indeed, this refreshing outtake on the issue of generational differences may be fundamental to create a better future within the working-sphere.