Generational Divide Not Insurmountable in the Workplace, Keynote Speaker Says

AASHTO Journal, 21 November 2012

While the generation divide is wide between “Generation Y” and all others in the workplace, this new workforce group can be successful in the transportation industry and work productively side-by-side more experienced generations, said “Gen Y” expert Jason Ryan Dorsey. Dorsey led the AASHTO Annual Meeting plenary session as the event’s keynote speaker.

Dorsey began his speech by having the audience, mostly consisting of Baby Boomers and those in Generation X, imagine what it was like to be a Generation Y-er (someone age 17-35). Gen Ys, raised by those Baby Boomers, are very technologically dependent. They have almost always had cell phones available to them, rely on social media for communication and obtaining news, spend more time than their parents to earn their college degrees, and enter the workplace up to five years later than other generations. Dorsey understood why some managers and colleagues ask, “Don’t they know better?”

“Just consider for a moment that maybe we don’t [know better],” Dorsey said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t be great colleagues. In fact, I’m going to argue that the skill set my generation brings to transportation has never been more important. But I’m also going to argue that we bring a different mindset to work than what many of you have. It’s going to be a challenge and an opportunity. The choice is totally yours.”

Dorsey took time to explain the defining characteristics of each generation, stressing that they weren’t true for every single person of those generations. Individuals age 36-47 (belonging to Generation X) are naturally skeptics that often need to constantly verify matters. They believe actions speak louder than words, yet also tend to be the most loyal (though to individuals, not necessarily organizations or groups). Baby Boomers (age 48-66) define work ethic based on the number of hours worked per week. They tend to be the compass of their organizations. Finally, Traditionalists (those over 67 years of age) are comfortable with delayed gratification and tend to have strong military backgrounds. Generation Y-ers, the newest group of individuals entering the workforce, often act entitled and have a sense of delayed adulthood.

But while those in Generation Y can seem to be a lot to take on, Dorsey stated doing so will benefit any organization. The major selling point, he stated, are that this group, more than any other generation, wants to make a difference right from the moment they start on their first day. They also naturally challenge the status quo, which is good for any organization in order to grow and adapt. He also commented that this group is most willing to take a pay cut to work somewhere they believe in. These individuals just need guidance from the other generations in the workplace in order to succeed. And, Dorsey argues, those other generations need Gen Y, as a group that represents all generations is usually the most successful.

Additional information on Dorsey is available at

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