Preparing the Next Generation

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Author David J. Cherrington and J. Owen Cherrington

What every employer should know about their youngest job applicants and consider when hiring them.

Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602

Every generation of adults faces the daunting responsibility of helping the next generation of youth become mature responsible adults, a process called socialization. The job of socialization involves teaching young people the attitudes and values that are considered socially acceptable and making certain their behaviors are consistent with our cultural norms.

The greatest responsibility for socializing children belongs to parents, and there is little doubt that family influences have by far the greatest impact on the social values of children. But the influence of parents can only go so far— children need to hear other voices in society. Education has always played an important role in teaching social values, but the effectiveness of school systems has been reduced by uncertainty about which values should be taught and how they should be presented.

Employers also need to play an important role. If employers want dedicated, honest, moral, and diligent workers, they may have to assume a significant part of the socialization burden and help young workers become mature, responsible adults.

In 1998, over four million teenagers turned eighteen— the age when society accepts them as mature, responsible adults. They will be old enough to vote, old enough to have a driver’s license, and old enough to borrow money and sign contracts without their parent’s approval. Most of them will enter the labor force, at least part-time, and the vast majority of them will work in the service and retail industries. Most of them will handle sizable sums of money for their employers and some will hold important positions of responsibility.

Although all of them should have graduated from high school, only about 82 percent of them achieved this noble goal. About half of the drop-outs will eventually obtain a high school diploma through some form of alternative education; but the other half will go through life without a high school education.

The people who turned eighteen in 1998 were born in 1980. Consequently, they will likely have very different perspectives on many of the political, social, and economic issues than older people. Politically, they don’t remember much of the Reagan era and most of them don’t know he was ever shot. They were only eleven when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and they have only known one Germany. Consequently, they have no memory of the Cold War and the real threat it presented of a nuclear war. To them “The Day After” is a pill, not a movie.

They have never lived through a major world war. They weren’t around when graphic images of the Vietnam War were flashed across television screens in living color; the Vietnam war is as distant to them as World War I, World War II, or even the Civil War. Even the Persian Gulf War is not a vivid memory to them since it was waged during their prepubescent years. Most of them have no idea that Americans were held hostage in Iran, they do not know who Moamar Qadafi is, and Tienamin Square means nothing to them.

Most eighteen-year-olds have little or no incentive to save for the future or worry about hard times. They have never heard of “penny postcards.” As far as they know, stamps have always cost about 32 cents. Since the economy recovered so quickly from Black Monday in 1987 and the Market Readjustment of 1998, many of them think the Great Depression was “no big thing.” To them, WPA and CCCP are just a bunch of letters.

Sony introduced the Walkman the year they were born, and the compact disk emerged when they were one year old. Consequently, the expression, “You sound like a broken record,” means nothing to them since most of them have never owned or operated a record player. For the most part, they have never seen a black and white TV or one with only 13 channels; but they have always had an answering machine, a VCR, cable TV, and a remote control. Furthermore, they also assume they should be able to contact anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Most eighteen-year-olds are not prepared to perform repetitive or difficult labor. They think shoes and clothes are made entirely by machines without human effort. They also believe all food is harvested by large combines and other picking machines and the only food picked by hand comes from small gardens that people raise for a hobby. Indeed, many think that all repetitive work has been automated out of existence and robots are used extensively in manufacturing; thus, the primary work of most factory workers is tending and repairing the robots.

Unless employers provide effective training and strictly enforce their zero-tolerance policies, they can expect expensive sexual harassment litigation. On average, today’s eighteen-year-olds have listened to four hours of music and watched four hours of television per day. Consequently, they think they know what social life is like outside their neighborhood and they have something in common with everyone. Unfortunately, watching TV doesn’t develop social skills as well as interacting with friends. So youth who have devoured a heavy diet of television tend to be shy and uncomfortable in social situations. Even more unfortunate, however, is their biased perception of male-female relationships. Since eighty percent of the humor in today’s sit-coms is based on sexual innuendos, they have been conditioned to think that all male-female interactions contain sexual undertones of flirtation and seduction. To the extent they have accepted the media’s message, they believe all comments between a man and a woman are made against a backdrop of sexual exploration rather than a simple conversation between two adults who have unique personalities and interests that are devoid of sexual fantasy.

Many eighteen-year-olds have never learned respect for authority, because authority figures were absent or ineffective. Accommodating the demands of two-income families often compromises the exposure of children to legitimate authority. Parents who come home exhausted from work are not as likely to involve themselves in working with their children or structuring their lives. Day care providers may be very loving, but they don’t have the same power or authority as parents. Two-parent families have twice as many authority figures as single-parent families; and when they are united, the influence of a mother and father is usually perceived as many times more powerful than when either one is acting alone. Other authority figures can be ignored— if students don’t like school, they don’t have to go; if they don’t like their coach, they can quit the team. They never knew the draft and they haven’t been through boot camp.

Eighteen-year-olds have witnessed new lows in public displays of integrity and fidelity. The escapades of Hollywood stars have fed the tabloid industry for many years. But more recent sex scandals have plagued some of the most prominent public figures, including the President of the United States, congressional representatives, TV evangelists, the British Monarchy, and professional athletes. The initial responses of these role models were to “lie and deny” until convincing evidence forced them to admit their errors, at which time they tried to assert that it didn’t really matter.

The majority of eighteen-year-olds will enter the labor force with little or no prior work experience. Although some have learned how to be responsible workers because they worked on farms or other part-time jobs, most have not yet developed positive work values. If employers want these young workers to feel a moral obligation to work diligently and to take pride in their work, they will have to instill these values on the job.
Although most supervisors feel overwhelmed by the challenge of helping young workers acquire positive work values and attitudes, there is much they can do to influence their behavior. The principles for developing positive work values are the principles of good supervision:1

1. Establish an organizational climate that fosters positive work values and a commitment to excellence.

2. Communicate clear expectations about productivity and high-quality craftsmanship.

3. Teach and explain the value of work, the dignity of labor, and the joy of service.

4. Establish individual accountability by effectively delegating task assignments.

5. Develop personal commitment and involvement through individual choice and participation.

6. Provide feedback on performance through effective performance appraisals.

7. Reward effective performance with pay and other social reinforcers.

8. Continually encourage employees to improve their skills and further their personal growth and development.

The secret is to be patient and persistent. Supervisors need to set clear quality standards and provide constant feedback on their performance. They also need to be fearless in discussing standards of right and wrong and encouraging them to act ethically. Even teenagers who have learned to be responsible benefit from careful instructions that help them face new challenges. For example, bribes and conflicts of interest are ethical dilemmas they have never faced in their homes and they may need help recognizing them and knowing how to respond to them. Every generation of supervisors faces the challenge of training the next generation.
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1. David J. Cherrington, The Work Ethic: Working Values and Values That Work, (NY: AMACOM, 1980): 181-183.


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