Manufacturing News

Bridging the generation gap

NEW research launched last week shows the skills shortages and the associated workplace expectations of Generation Y are here to stay.

Bridging the Gap – A guide to managing and retaining the new generation of apprentices and trainees, by Mark McCrindle, looks at the various generational differences in today’s workforce and how they can be overcome.

It examines the assumption that the skills shortages come from 16 straight years of economic growth, resulting in a higher demand for staff, and examines the demographic impacts of this situation.

The report says it is not just that demand for staff is high- but that supply, particularly of young people is low, due to the ageing of our population and the relative decline in the number of young people.

In 1976 the median age of an Australian was 28 compared to 37 today and in a decade it will be over 40.

The average age of a full-time employee has also been rising and today it sits at 40.

And this trend looks set to continue with the growth of Australia’s population projected to slow down even further during the next 50 years, from 1% per year today to 0.2% per year by 2040.

In 1961 women averaged 3.5 children while today this is down to 1.8 children per woman- below the population replacement rate of 2.1. Australia’s working age population is also in decline as a proportion of the total population.

Currently for every person of retirement age (65 or over) there are 5 people in the working age population (aged 15-64).

However in 4 decades for every person in retirement age there will be just 2.4 people of working age.

“Occasionally in history rapid technological change combines with massive demographic change and with one generation society altogether alters.

Today we are living in one such era,” McCrindle said.

Why the next generation?

The report says that over 30% of the total workforce is employed on a casual basis, and for Generation Y’s this rises to over 40%.

There is also a divide between the genders, with 20,000 fewer men than women in their 30’s in Australia which is attributed to the globalisation of labour drawing men overseas.

It also states that the length of time workers spend per employer has been in freefall for decades. In 1960 employees averaged 12 years per employer.

Today the average tenure has dropped to just 4 years.

According to the report, the ageing population is unlikely to change as longevity rates are rising and the trend to have fewer children later in life is continuing.

So labour supply will not increase yet the economy and the demand is still growing. Therefore employers need to adjust to these new employment realities which are here to stay until at least 2047.

More power in employment has shifted to employees yet the focus can’t simply be on understanding their needs to increase retention.

Employers have to also ensure that Generation Y are effectively trained and managed to ensure that work outcomes and productivity are maintained.

Therefore the future lies in Bridging the Gaps- helping both older employers and younger employees understand and deal with the generational differences.

“In these times of fast change, every industry and organisation is just one generation away from extinction. Unless we can understand and remain relevant to the new generation of workers we will edge towards irrelevancy” McCrindle explained.

The report, Bridging the Gap comes with an Employers Guide and an Employees guide. They can be freely downloaded at

To assist organisations in bridging the generation gaps, the report’s author has also been commissioned to run half-day Bridging the Gap Workshops for industry associations, employer groups and employees.

For details see or email

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