Process Safety and Our Next Generation Workforce

The skills gap between the current, aging workforce and our next generation of workers is well documented. In his keynote presentation at the Vistage UK 25 Years Conference and Awards Celebration on February 7th 2014, “Ready or Not, Here They Come!” (used with permission), Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky notes the following:

 For the first time in the history of mankind, there are four generations in the workforce. In the US, there are 35 million Traditionalists (Silent Gen) and 84 million Baby Boomers, the largest number of workers, which began to retire in 2010-11. There are 68 million Generation Xers and 79 million Generation Yers (Millennials as they are better known). There will be no escaping the demographic reality that in the very near future, there will be 84 million retiring Baby Boomers, followed by 68 million Gen Xers to replace them. This will create an employee vacuum in the workforce that only the 79 million Gen Yers can fill, increasing the demand and competing for Gen Y employees, in addition to increasing the ongoing challenges of working with a multigenerational workforce.

For the next 15-20 years, we have Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z as the 4 generations in the workforce. But, Dr. Grodnitzky’s statement remains true that there is a numerical gap of skilled workers to fill the roles left by retiring workers.

How Generation Gaps Affect Safety

What may be less widely known is how generation gaps can affect workplace safety for our next generation workforce and their frontline leaders. Frontline leaders in hazardous work environments depend on a strong and competent current workforce to coach and mentor the next generation hires. Data shows our Boomer generation workforce will be mostly gone from the frontline by 2035. The building up of the right heartset, mindset, and skillset of new workers is through the practical safety and technical knowledge that is transferred on the job from this outgoing generation of workers. The exodus of a highly skilled and competent Boomer workforce is having widespread effects. What will the outcome of that loss be on the next generation workforce?

A lack of one-on-one support can, and often does, result in more workplace incidents, damaged equipment, wasted resources, and lost time. Many leaders cause greater issues on the frontline by prioritizing results without reinforcing safe work practices and operational processes. So that raises questions: are they not aware of the workforce transition that is happening? Or, are they under the impression that more or better training will solve the problem for their new hires? Regardless, some younger, less experienced workers feel they must get the job done without fully understanding what they are undertaking or how to best mitigate risk. Lack of experience and not having a competent co‑worker beside them is a significant challenge for our next generation frontline workers.

Ensuring Process Safety Continues

Process safety in the U.S. was rolled out in 1992 and has finally started to become embedded in the workplace. Now that workers with process safety knowledge have left your company, are getting ready to leave, or plan to leave in the next decade, you have to ask and answer the following questions:

  • What are we doing to capture our process safety knowledge and practices so that they are passed on to our next generation workforce and frontline leaders?
  • Who do we have in place to guide the hearts and minds of our much younger and inexperienced workforce to ensure their training results in practical application that aligns with our policies, practices, and procedures?
  • What are we doing to manage this risk right now?

What You Can Do Now

Have you heard the term Safety 2.0 or Safety Differently? In high-hazard environments, knowing and understanding process safety is critical to safe and reliable operations, regardless of how much technology you have in place to minimize human error. Your current workforce maintains your operations and keeps them running safely every day. Your next generation workforce must have the required skills and competencies to continue implementing effective process safety standards as Boomers exit the workforce.

Contact us today to talk about what experts in the field of human learning and development say about Safety 2.0 and our next generation workforce. Let’s have a discussion about how we can help you implement and maintain a process safety culture at your workplace.

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