Give Juniors a Chance

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One summer during my architecture studies in the late 1970s, I worked at a construction site as a carpenter’s helper. At first I was just pulling nails out of used planks. Gradually I got more demanding jobs and was finally promoted to install ceiling panels. The senior carpenter told me that I was the only guy on the site he could trust to do such an intricate task.

I met all kinds of people during that summer at the construction site. Some were professionals; others were hired to assist in sundry jobs. Why did the old-timer trust me and not the dozen other possible assistants he could pick, I wondered. I certainly did not have years of experience behind me.

However I noticed that most of the other assistants had developed a certain attitude to their work. They were not exactly looking for opportunities to learn new skills or do anything beyond the scope they had defined for themselves. Whenever they felt that someone was doing more than necessary, or working unusually fast, they made a polite remark about it. I, as a newcomer and an outsider, had not yet adopted the same mindset, and was therefore willing to go beyond what was required of me.

Fast-forwarding to today, I still encounter the same attitude.  I’ve heard more than once during the last month how junior workers at construction companies or engineering firms are being discouraged. As one manager told me, “in this industry, a junior will be depressed in a year.” He was really worried about this, since he felt that newcomers are necessary for radical change.

How would your company benefit from encouraging junior employees? First of all, their education is hopefully better and more up to date than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Young workers understand the younger generation, which helps your company attract young customers. Junior workers also know how to work in new ways, using social and mobile technologies creatively. Newcomers may also be the only ones who have the courage to question the old, “proven” ways to work and do business.

How can companies make the most of the untapped resource of a fresh workforce? Here are some ideas:

  • Listen to what junior workers have to say
  • Don’t discourage new ideas up front; be open to those that make sense
  • Give juniors demanding jobs to let them show what they are capable of
  • Let junior workers team up for certain tasks or projects, and offer them a senior mentor or advisor
  • Offer opportunities for shared learning between new and seasoned workers

Some contractors have not only embraced juniors, they have actively hired people from other industries. This may be the only way to create a competitive edge in an industry where traditions prevail and fresh thinking and thinkers are otherwise rare.