ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – The beauty of a multigenerational workforce is revealed when different sets of skills and competencies are brought to the table.
The U.S. Army Sustainment Command workforce is currently comprised of multiple generations, presenting unique opportunities for intergenerational team bonding.
The mixing of these generations into the workforce to successfully complete ASC’s various missions can be challenging. But, what they have in common is a desire to succeed and be a professional despite different beliefs in their approach to work.
“I enjoy working and interacting with people; it helps keep my mind active,” said Ronald Gibbens, rehired annuitant, motor vehicle operator/fleet manager with the Logistics Readiness Center at Fort Greely, Alaska.
At 77 years of age, he is one of ASC’s most senior employees.
He started working when he was in high school, around 13 to14 years old. He recalls working a couple of hours in the morning before going to school and a couple more hours after.
Gibbens joined the Army in March 1961 and spent most of his time as a motor vehicle operator, holding secondary positions as supply sergeant, career counselor, and administration specialist. He retired after 21 years of service, holding the rank of sergeant first class.
Gibbens then became an Army civilian in October 1982 starting as a supply clerk, then moving to the Defense Commissary Agency as a warehouse worker. He retired from civilian service as a DeCA store foreman in 2001 when Fort Greely was selected for the Base Realignment and Closure Program, however, the installation never closed.
Gibbens went back to work there as a contractor in 2003.
“In 2009, most of the contract workforce went back to civil service and I was asked to stay by the director of logistics,” he said. “I was rehired into my current position and reverted back to civil service.”
While diversity is a key driver of innovation, it also offers the opportunity to have different sets of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds in the workplace.
“I was very fortunate to find my current job,” said Christian Cabrera, automotive mechanic, Logistics Readiness Center, 404th Army Field Support Brigade, Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Cabrera, 22, is one of ASC’s most recent hires. He decided to pursue a Department of the Army career after losing his job earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cabrera said he doesn’t find the Army culture overwhelming. He is currently a member of the U.S. National Guard and already accustomed to military environments.
Being the youngest person in his workplace, he said, does not intimidate him.
“I know there’s the perception that because I’m young, I don’t know very much,” he said, “but I always treat everyone with respect and hold myself to a high standard so my age doesn’t get in the way of their perception of me.”
Regarding the mid-age workforce of 35 to 55, Terrie Jordan, ASC information technology specialist at RIA, said that generational differences are often more about experience than the age of individuals.
“Everyone brings something to the table,” she said. “It’s all about building relationships, regardless of your co-workers’ age.”
Jordan remembers how having good mentors helped her at the beginning of her career.
“I learned a lot from the seasoned workers who shared their experiences. I was fresh out of college and wanted to use all the things I’d learned in college to do my job,” she said. “It didn’t take long to realize that the working world wasn't quite like what I’d studied in my business classes.”
Having a multigenerational workforce enables employees to benefit from a two-way mentoring relationship. More experienced people share their experience, skills, and knowledge with younger generations and vice versa.
Lisa Schuldt, G3 (Operations) training and programs branch chief, ASC, said she believes that working in a multigenerational workforce brings a wealth of knowledge and differing perspectives that can only enhance teams’ performance.
Schuldt, part of the mid-age workforce, has been managing ASC’s Journey to Leadership Program for 12 years. She said the program has participants from multiple generations and that everyone brings value through the different perspectives they share.
“The main difference between different groups of age is the institutional and historical knowledge that a senior employee may have, while a junior employee may bring a fresh approach,” she said.
Cabrera sees a benefit in working with more mature people.
“I strive daily to prove my abilities while still being humble, and thanks to the age gap with some of my co-workers, I get the added benefit of their experience,” he said.
Challenges are present in all age groups. Each generation has a distinct thought process when it comes to how they see the world and the workplace.
Gibbens said he appreciates the help of technology but thinks younger generations tend to rely on it too much instead of taking personal initiative.
“Too many people don’t take the initiative to get work done without being told to do it,” he said.
Jordan said that she sees appearance and attire being some of the biggest differences between generations.
“Coming from the era of ‘dress for success,’ it’s interesting to see the changes in the workplace from business attire to flip-flops and colorful hair extensions,” she said.
“Self-expression in clothing and appearance is now commonplace, and it doesn’t detract from getting the mission done,” she added.
Having a multigenerational workforce also means having different perspectives.
Cabrera said that older and newer generations may have a different conception when it comes to respect. He noticed that senior employees sometimes demand respect without earning it first.
“Older generations expect younger ones to show them respect without earning it,” he said, “sometimes they might even act in a way to warrant that loss of respect.”
All employees are equal in the workplace despite age and experience differences, said Cabrera. He added that having an open mind is the key to success when working with different age groups, and that everybody should set their beliefs aside to understand that other person giving them a chance to prove themselves.
“Be a good listener, and always keep an open mind,” Jordan said, mirroring Cabrera’s thoughts.
“The biggest factor to be successful in a multigenerational workplace is to be impartial,” Cabrera said. “We all have different strengths, education and experiences. When you can understand that, you’ll come to find out you can learn something from everyone.”
Melissa Peterson, a human resource specialist with ASC, said that coming from distinct and unique eras, each generation has different perspectives on critical issues such as leadership, communication, problem solving, and decision making.
She said that loss of institutional knowledge is one of ASC’s main concerns regarding its future. Having an aging workforce means that every person retiring takes with them knowledge that’s hard to be replace.
Both mentoring and reverse mentoring – where older people learn from younger ones - are excellent opportunities to learn and exchange knowledge. Employees of younger generations bring a depth of technical skills and expertise that the senior workforce can also learn from.
“A positive, inclusive work culture can lead to our success by enhancing recruitment and retention, and decisions are stronger because they’re broad-based with multiple perspectives,” Peterson said.
Not surprisingly, plans for the future can look a lot different for every age group.
Gibbens said he is planning on working until he is unable to do so or maybe move somewhere warmer. He enjoys gardening and would like to travel.
Jordan said she plans on staying healthy and working until 62 years of age.
Cabrera said that, as of right now, he is planning to continue to do his job the best of his ability while he attends college. In the long term, he is hoping to finish his degree to transition into an engineering role as a DA civilian.