Kyle Shermock of Miller Milling Co
Kyle Shermock with Miller Milling discusses generational differences in the workplace during the IAOM Annual Conference & Expo.
Photo by Susan Reidy.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA, U.S. — As the workforce shifts from the baby boomer to millennial generation, milling companies will have to address three key areas to smooth the transition, said Kyle Shermock, Miller Milling Co.

Milling companies, and the industry as a whole, should provide a safe work environment; transfer knowledge among employees; and engage and retain millennial employees, said Shermock, during his presentation at the International Association of Operative Millers Annual Conference & Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., this April.

“The milling industry as a whole, we’re competing for talent amongst ourselves, and against other industries,” he said. “There’s a lot of focus on the food industry today. We want to engage and retain as many people in the industry as possible to help provide better solutions.”

Millennials now represent a larger share of the workforce than any other generation. In 2015, 53.5 million millennials were actively participating in the workforce compared to 44.6 million for baby boomers and 52.7 million for Generation X.

There are differences between the generations, most notably in their work centrality. Boomers live to work while millennials work to live, Shermock said.

“Millennials value experiences outside of work and they value leisure more than other generations,” he said.

But at the heart of it, all generations desire four things: respect, competence, connection and autonomy.

That’s why addressing safety, knowledge transfer and employee engagement are so important.

Safety builds trust, Shermock said, and better ideas and solutions are generated if people aren’t afraid to speak up. This can be achieved by a mentor program, which facilitates learning, builds trust and helps each generation understand each other better.

He suggested assigning a devil’s advocate, one person who is always going to have an opposing viewpoint. This reduces group-think and creates less ill will when there’s a big disagreement, Shermock said. Remove the fear of embarrassment and make it easy to ask questions.

As baby boomers retire, they are taking their institutional knowledge with them. That’s why it’s important to ensure there is knowledge transfer between the generations.

“As people retire, they might not have taught the next person what is going on with a business process or a milling unit,” Shermock said. “We have to initiate that discussion.”

This can be accomplished through an internal web site or new technology such as Slack, an online tool where work groups can organize thoughts and ideas. Shermock also suggested having diverse work groups and using the mentor program to pass along knowledge.

Lastly, engaging and retaining millennials not only within an individual organization, but the milling industry overall, is vital.

Because millennials view work differently, it’s important to know how to engage them. Providing learning experiences, such as attending the IAOM conference is one way, Shermock said.

Give purpose to the job and provide opportunities for advancement. Be flexible with hours and leave since millennials value a work-life balance.

“Communicate the overall purpose and the overall why behind what you’re doing, not only within your company but in the industry as a whole,” Shermock said.