Gen Ys Beyond Their Years

Since returning from the annual Mid America CropLife Asso­cia­tion meeting, I’m thinking about the generational divide. At the event, one of the major topics of discussion centered on Generation Y (born between 1978 and 1995) and how this growing segment of the workforce could shape society forward.

Now, as a member of the Baby Boom­er generation (born between 1946 and 1964), I have an admittedly dim understanding of what makes Generation Y click.

And I’m apparently not alone. Steve Drake, owner of Drake & Co., a cause-related marketing firm, said Baby Boomers tend to think of Generation Y individuals as “feeling entitled, with poor work ethics and lost without technology at their fingertips.” On the flipside, Generation Yers view Baby Boomers as “not tech savvy or fully engaged.”

Of course, generational divides are nothing new. Consider the following: “The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age.”

Think this quote was made by a member of the Greatest Generation talking about Baby Boomers? Actually, it dates back to the 12th century and was made by Peter the Hermit.

Generational divide or not, the nation’s employers need to begin learning more about Generation Y in the workplace because their time is rapidly approaching. According to Drake, this generation currently represents only 12% of the U.S. workforce, vs. 44% for Baby Boomers and 34% for Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1977). However, many Baby Boomers will start retiring between 2012 and 2019, opening the door for succeeding generations to step in.

“Fifty percent of the largest employers will lose 50% of their senior managers within the next five to 10 years,” said Drake. “Boomer retirement will lead to an all-out war for talent.”

With the majority of its managers and company heads as members of the Baby Boom generation, agriculture can also be expected to be impacted by this worker exodus. According to Eric Spell, president of, Generation Y workers are different from their Baby Boomer counterparts in several ways, including wanting to be global collaborators, expecting constant contact with their managers and working to co-create and solve real business issues. “Executing tasks or parts of a system will frustrate them greatly,” said Spell.

Generation Y workers are also different in their views on the workplace itself. With technology, they view work as “from anywhere, not fixed.” Likewise, they tend to “work to live” rather than “live to work” like Baby Boomers. According to Jason Lehnst, project manager for agriculture for Management Recruiters of Iowa City, this means employers need to consider shorter talent-mining time frames.

“Accept that most Generation Y employees will not retire with their current employer,” said Lehnst. “Find the best way to utilize their talent while you have it.”

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