A New Generation of Leaders Looking for Work and Meaning
“If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting.” —Katherine Hepburn
It’s graduation season once again. Which always gets me thinking about what the world now offers the newest class of a new generation. It is a class stepping into a world packed with astounding changes, immense opportunities and profound life lessons. And I keep coming back to a crucial question: What do these men and women want from their new lives, and new jobs and from the communities where they will choose to live. Something “interesting” surely as the celebrated actress would have it. But much more as well.
This is a generation we are told that is growing up with different attitudes toward work and community. It is a generation that values many things that simply did not occur to us as we entered the workforce. Only later in life did many of us come to appreciate that simply collecting a salary for filling a place in the world from 9 to 5 is never enough. As we matured, we came to want far more from our lives than just a job, and from our jobs far more than just a paycheck.
We are finding in many cases that the brightest and most promising of today’s graduates are there already. They are looking for significant purpose in their work, a chance to be part of something important to the wellbeing of their neighbors and society in general. They want a stimulating work environment with companies and in industries that are innovative and alert to the technological and global business challenges they face. They want a workplace that encourages curiosity and constructive criticism, and an environment that is dedicated to continuous improvement.
They are looking for respect and the opportunity to fully participate in the workplace. At the same time they want to be judged by what they accomplish rather than how many hours they put in to get the job done. They like flexibility and adaptability in a workplace and a respect for the soundness of their ideas and contribution, regardless of their age, sex or ethnicity.
Our new graduates want to work in a place that respects the environment, operates as efficiently and sustainably as possible and believes in giving back to its employees and its community. To be sure, these are not your anxious-to-please, do-anything-for-a-buck job seekers.
And I would bet that as they assess their opportunities and consider various work alternatives, not enough of them will think immediately of how closely aligned our industrial metals industry is to this set of values and concerns. Will they understand how important manufacturing and making things are to the economic and social health of this country? Will they see that our factory floors and office operations can be laboratories for innovation as we anticipate and adapt to the challenges of big data, evolving new materials and additive manufacturing, and changing global markets? Will they understand our appreciation for each other as colleagues in a continually developing learning experience? Will they see our dedication to service and to the communities in which we live?
They will see all this as we tell our story effectively. The industrial metals industry is no longer their grandfather’s monotonous and forbidding, metal bending shop. As we look to our future we know we can use all the fresh ideas and energy we can get. At the same time, it never hurts to remember, as Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by a lot of people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”