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Future Now: GenY Stepping into Boomer Engineering Roles

Back in September, in one of the very first posts on the generation gap in engineering, I wrote about how the Is the Generation Profile of Engineering a Saddle?. There are lots of Boomer engineers, much fewer GenX engineers and quite a lot of GenY engineers. In that post, I included an excerpt from a discussion I had with Howard Schimmoller, who had this to say about the implications of such an age profile.

There is a huge gap to the next set of experienced employees. As the aging group retires, they have to go a generation and a half back to find a suitable replacement. That’s a five year gap in management and experience that is missed.

Interestingly, this phenomenon of pressing GenY engineers into the gap left by retiring Boomer engineers isn’t some problem that’s far off. It’s a battlefield type of promotion that’s happening right now. I’ve interviewed Angie Dinsmore of ATK on a number of issues. Angie is a GenY engineer and provides a first hand perspective around onboarding and what it means to replace a Boomer engineer. Have a listen.

Here are the highlights from the interview.

  • 00:00 – Discussion initially started around ‘time to significant responsibilities’.
  • 00:32 – Angie talks about her onboarding experience. She was pressed into a significant role within her first year when her mentor left to take on another position.
  • 01:06 – During other significant changes on the team, Angie gained more authority.
  • 01:25 – When she transferred to her next job, her mentor left within a month. This was a Boomer engineer with 30 years of experience and who acted as the ‘go-to’ problem solver. As a result, she took on the role as the technical leader, regardless of her actual experience.
  • 2:10 – The person she was replacing was the one who was pretty much responsible for getting the product built correctly.

And just as a side note, the products built at ATK are the booster rockets for the shuttle. So the product wasn’t insignificant. The good news is this: as seen in the post The Challenge of GenY’s Expectations for Engineering, these employees do want to take on significant responsibilities. With Boomer engineers set to retire over the next 5 to 10 years, there will be ample opportunity to take on serious work. However, more risk is shifted to the company as they can’t rely on tenured engineers to make all the right decisions. In fact, it makes sense to add more verification and validation checks into the development cycle to catch problems before design release. So here’s my question to you? Are you seeing this shift of responsibilities from Boomer engineers to GenY engineers? Is your company doing anything formally to assist in the transition? Sound off and let me know what you’re seeing. Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

Chad Jackson is an Industry Analyst at Lifecycle Insights and publisher of the engineering-matters blog. With more than 15 years of industry experience, Chad covers career, managerial and technology topics in engineering. For more details, visit his profile.

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