Working Across the Generations

Working Across the Generations

Words: Chris Rodermond
Photos: Bartco, NCMCA

Masonry Magazine sat down with three veteran masonry professionals to learn more about how they deal with the complex dynamics which exist between generations and give their perspective and advice on how best to engage and learn from the next generation of talented masonry professionals within your organizations.

Corey Adams is the owner of 4 Sons Concrete and Masonry in Galena, Ohio. Curtis C. Hoover is a masonry instructor at the Center of Applied Technology-North. He was inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame in 2018. Ryan Shaver is the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association of America (NCMCA) Workforce Development and Training Coordinator.

We first asked about the best way they had found to communicate with younger people in the industry, and for this question and the rest of the questions in this interview, we got a great variety of answers. 

Corey Adams noted that he preferred to be a resource for younger people in the industry. He tells everyone that they hire that if they want to learn, he will teach them. He thinks the worst thing we can do for any generation is deprived them of information. He encourages us to show them you care about their development and position within the company. 

Curtis Hoover said it is important to treat younger folks with respect and let them know they are an important part of the team/company.  He reminds us they are our industry’s future and encourages us to get to know them and suggests one way is by asking them why or how they got into the trade. 

Ryan Shaver uses humor to build a rapport and “get on their level.” He likes to start presentations by telling them to look at him and reflect on the fact that “You’ll never be as ugly as I am.” He suggests you don’t go into a school or training program with a superior attitude. Instead, he suggests you build relationships with the students by making them excited about the trade you are representing. 

How does your communication differ between a younger mason and someone older working in the industry? 

Adams: I communicate with employees based on skill level, not age. I believe that treating people differently based on their age is why we have an issue with attracting a younger workforce. If you show interest in their development, they will show interest in you. 

Hoover: With older more experienced workers you can be more straightforward with them. If you need a task done by the end of the day the older more experienced worker will understand what it’s going to take to get that accomplished. 

Shaver: If you are working with someone older in the industry, your story of how things “used” to be can be shared. Talk about the good ol’ days when TikTok was a clock and tweeting was a bird. Your positive attitude when teaching the trade will be your key to success. 

What suggestions do you have for someone who is trying to work with a team with age gaps? 

Adams: Remove your own age bias. We as a society believe that older workers have more seniority or knowledge. This may be the case sometimes, but not mandatory. Integrating a multi-aged team requires us to remove our own biases and treat them all accordingly. 

Hoover: I have always said to the younger generation to listen to the older more experienced workers and take in all the knowledge they will give you, and for the older workers listen to the younger workers for they may have something to bring to the table.

Shaver: Attitude and connectivity — your attitude for each age of the student is important. You must connect personally with them for them to have the buy-in required for successful training. I ask the trainees “Does anyone here like to fish?” when all the hands go up, I say “Good, that’s the first prerequisite for being a mason.” Age gaps do not affect fishing and should not affect masonry training if you are connected!” 

What are some things you’ve noticed about how the older generations communicate with younger apprentices or workers on a job site? 

Adams: I see the older generations communicating the same way they were communicated to when they were the young ones. In the 1960s the older generation said that the younger generation was lazy, wouldn’t work, and so on. Now, as the older generation, they are saying the same things. Until we change the way we communicate, the cycle will continue.

Hoover: Times have changed!  You can no longer talk to the younger generation the way we were talked to.  I have seen a few great apprentices get out of the trade because of the way they were treated. We can no longer “hoot & holler” at the younger generation the way it was when we were apprentices. I tell the kids it’s like an initiation that we all went through, but the older generation has to have to be respectful to them as well.

Do your best every day. Each day is going to be different and some days are going to be more difficult than others. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Employers will help you through your apprenticeship, they have a vested interest in you. You are their next-generation workers.

Shaver: Over the years it has been a hidden goal for some seasoned Journeymen (masons) to try and run off the younger guys. I would like to have a conversation with the older guys, like me, and remind them who took the time to train them. Did they work hard? Yes, but it still took someone training them. Mentors on the job still work! Can you be structured and teach younger masons? Yes, but you also need to have a mentality that things are different in today’s world and as seasoned as you are, the students or apprentices can show and teach you as well. 

Have you found it to be easier to talk with the older generation or the younger generation when working? 

Adams: It depends on the individual. As the owner, most employees show you respect and in turn, make them easy to talk to. Where the real disconnect happens is field management to the labor force. If you do not promote, and follow through with a team environment, communication is hard.

Hoover: Teaching for 28 years, I find that I can talk to either generation.  Younger workers, if you take an interest in them that they will feel more comfortable learning the trade or working on the job. Always tell them that they are as important to the company as the older experienced worker. The older generation comes naturally when working with them. 

Shaver: Each generation on the job can be talked to on the job the same. It takes “relationships” with each on what they are interested in. I can pick with a seasoned guy and ask him if he needs to borrow my glasses to read the rule as well as I can stop an apprentice while he is laying brick and say, “Do you know what that brick needs? Another one on top of it!” It’s how you learn to communicate to be productive. 

Are there any team-building or meetings that can be had to effectively communicate with everyone on the team before the start of the day or project? 

Adams: Communication is not something that should be turned on and off. It is one thing to communicate during meetings, but real project communication does not stop there. Constantly communicating project tasks, goals, methods, and information keeps everyone engaged, on the same page, and comfortable with our expectations for them. 

Hoover: I feel that before we start each day that we set some kind of a goal to what needs to be accomplished that day.  Make everyone accountable for what they have to do that day to reach that goal.

Shaver: If you have foreman or supervisor meetings, please constantly share with them that the youth are the future of the trade! It is OUR responsibility to encourage, mentor, and train the next generation of craftsmen! I was told by one of my mentors 30 years ago that “Michael Jordan doesn’t walk to the other end of the court and dunk the basketball. He runs down the court, dunks the ball, and then runs back to get on defense.” We must positively excite our youth and that will encourage success! 

Is there anything else you’d like to add on the subject? 

Adams: Effective communication, no matter the generation, is an acquired skill. It takes practice, patience, and an intense desire to perfect it within a company. The main thing to remember is that humans react differently to forms of communication. There is no one perfect way to communicate. Communication, however, is one of the most important aspects of successful projects, and successful teams. The reason that many people struggle with multi-age communication is they think it needs to be different. Solid communication is ageless, effective, and devoid of bias.

Hoover: I like to see the younger generation work with all the older generation workers at some time during the job to accumulate their knowledge and any skills that they can learn that are not taught in the classroom setting.

Shaver: I’d like to ask each reader a question. What’s your goal in masonry? If it’s a paycheck, that’s fine, but my goal now is how can I get as many people involved in masonry as possible. Masonry has been good to me and my family! It’s a trade that you can be proud to be a part of! Set a new goal today that will promote our trade to everyone you come in contact with. Recruit everywhere you go and grow our industry!

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