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Engaging Millennials in Public Works

February 18, 2016

Engaging Millennials in Public Works

By WSB & Associates, Inc.

As public works professionals, we get excited about planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining infrastructure. But have you ever thought about why people choose this profession? Why did YOU choose to work in this industry? After all, doesn’t it sometimes feel like the public only notices infrastructure when something breaks or costs them money? 

Why would someone in the Millennial generation choose a career in public works? What keeps them coming in to work each day? Two engineers weighed in on the subject: Alex Miller, an engineer in training with two years of experience, and Peter Muehlbach, PE, a senior project manager who has worked in the industry for 12 years.

Why Public Works? People enter the public works profession for a wide variety of reasons. For a lot of people though, it boils down to the desire to preserve and improve infrastructure for the long-term benefit of society. That’s especially true of Millennials. They don’t just want to do a job – they want to make a difference.

A family connection draws some into the industry. Routinely hearing about infrastructure projects at the dinner table can make public works feel like home. For others, it’s a love of science and the desire to connect people with science that drives them to public works as a means of positively impacting society in tangible ways.

Deciding Where to Work. Many have said that Millennials are the most entitled generation yet. While a lot of Millennials bristle at the notion, some see a grain of truth there. This generation has a lot of opportunity at its feet and young professionals are finding they can be really choosy when deciding where to work. They look for a workplace with opportunity for growth and a culture that fosters creativity and connections. Unlike the job seekers 10-15 years ago who struggled to find a decent position in their chosen field, today’s job seekers see employers hungry for talent competing for them like never before.

Cramming vs. Collaborating. While it’s sometimes a rite of passage to cram as much work into a 24-hour period as humanly possible, keeping your head down and grinding out projects probably won’t do much to expand your horizons. Today’s young public works professionals have an innate understanding of this fact. Millennials are known for being natural collaborators and use this trait to their advantage in their everyday work. Collaborating and building a network of like-minded professionals can lead to better projects, increased job satisfaction, and improved professional prospects.

Priorities, Priorities. Work/life balance has been a hot topic for years. For Millennials though, the line between “work” and “life” tends to be more blurred than it is for Generation X or Baby Boomers. This generation grew up with technology and the connections it enables – both good and bad. It’s easy to check email on your smart phone or work from home on your laptop or tablet. But at what cost? Those with families often struggle to find a happy medium between family time and staying connected to their work and colleagues; for others, juggling work and an active social life is a challenge. However, as a generation known for its ability to build connections and figure things out, Millennials can often integrate “life” into “work,” enriching the work experience in ways other generations envy.

Fueling the Passion. We all want to feel competent and appreciated for our talents and hard work. Taking it perhaps a step further, Millennials need to be connected, engaged, motivated, and affirmed to remain passionate about their work. 

Our subject engineers have differing levels of industry experience, but some common themes emerged regarding what fuels their passion for their careers. A well-rounded experience that enables an understanding of the broader business is important. Making a difference and helping a company and/or community grow is a big motivator. Completing a design for a project feels good and proves an engineer’s worth. Building connections, collaborating, and solving problems together energize the daily work. 

The bottom line for Millennials, regardless of the job they’re doing, is to know that they’re making a difference. For those in other generations who work with Millennials, it’s important to acknowledge this desire, encourage the exploration of new ideas, and build the collaborative, supportive environment that enables Millennials to thrive.

Contributed by WSB & Associates, Inc.

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