This post was updated in June 2019.
Innovation happens when a team of talented people come together to get the job done. Each person’s individual contribution to the group sparks creativity and discussion — diverse approaches to work and occasional friction are part of the magic.
While differences among the generations are frequently exaggerated, successful businesses get great results when people of all ages work together. By tapping the combined creativity and experiences of multiple generations, employers can see incredible results and innovation.
To get a better sense of how this plays out in the automotive industry, where innovation is part of the day to day, we asked Mark McKeen, Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at GM, how his company approaches attracting and retaining millennials, baby boomers and everyone in between.
Here’s how GM gets people from any generation to work together and achieve great things:
How do millennials and baby boomers work together at GM?
I’m a fourth generation GM employee and that kind of family legacy here was something you used to see a lot more of. The recession of the late 80s and early 90s changed that a little. At that time, Gen Xers were just entering the workforce and the auto industry wasn’t hiring much during that period. The result today is that we have a large baby boomer segment and a growing millennial segment.
Our baby boomer employees have family members and children who are millennials, and they have respect for the technological knowledge that they have, along with their ability to challenge convention.
The automotive industry has undergone so many changes, has that changed the types of skill sets you need from candidates of all ages?
We’re in an industry that’s changing drastically and everyone recognizes that we need innovative thinkers at every level of the business. That need for innovation has a tendency to create a startup-like culture despite the fact that we’re an international company with a presence all over the globe. This is something we talk to millennials about when we’re recruiting, but it’s something that reaches candidates of all ages. We might recruit a millennial who’s a coding genius right out of school, a Gen Xer with extensive cyber security experience and a baby boomer who’s come up through the auto industry to manage the whole team.
Today, cars are more and more like computers on wheels. The whole industry is so close to self-driven vehicles, as one example. More immediately, our cars are increasingly connected to the internet, synced with drivers’ phones and other devices. Cars are more intelligent in general. These advances require that our workforce have a whole new set of skills. On the engineering side, there are new questions. For example, now that you have so many electronics in the car, what do you do about heat distribution? On the programming side, what does the app for your car look like? People are interacting with their vehicles in revolutionary ways, and we’re looking for a range of talented candidates who will enable us to stay ahead of and drive that change.
What steps have you taken to attract and retain great candidates from every generation?
Finding and retaining that kind of talent requires that we engage our employees in new ways too. Today, people are more aware that they need to build a portfolio of skills that will take them into jobs even as the economy shifts. We have a career rotation program, TRACK, that allows them to develop those kinds of skills. For a year to 18 months, you work in one segment, and from there you can go into the area that interests you. We also have a program for early career professionals called Jumpstart, that helps them plot a career trajectory with the help of their peers and mentors in their areas of interest. These types of programs not only give people a sense of purpose in their individual role, it also gives them a sense of how that job relates to the industry as a whole.
We have a talent analytics group that measures the success of these efforts, focusing on areas like attrition and productivity. In this way, employee engagement can be measured. We add to that the results of our Workplace of Choice survey, which we conduct every two years. In this survey, we ask employees detailed questions about their engagement in the workplace. It’s anonymous and we want the most candid feedback we can get. Managers share the results with their groups, and that generates a discussion about what’s working and where improvements could be made. This enables us to amplify the things that are working well, to identify our star leaders and share best practices.