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Empowering Your Next Gen Employees

Get Them Involved!

Can you put a value on your time? That’s a question few folks truly know the answer to! Is your time worth $20 per hour, $50 per hour, or $100 per hour? Would you know how to answer that question if you were asked?

I challenge you to determine what your time is worth, because if you’re a business owner or team leader, your time is as valuable as any other asset you control. Why wouldn’t it be? We’ve put the years in, and we’ve built, bought, or transformed our companies into what they are today. Why wouldn’t we think of our time as valuable, limited, and subject to safeguarding? Would you believe your time is also the most valuable currency for company investments? What does that mean? How is my time an asset and a currency?

As business owners and leaders within our companies, time is the most valued asset we control and the most valuable currency for investments in our companies. And it’s our responsibility, as professionals, to control and invest our time effectively.

In 2017, there are so many types of investments worthy of our time: relationship maintenance, profit improvement, cost savings, company growth, and so many more. The one investment I urge you to include in your investment portfolio this year, is your Next Gen employees. What is “Next Gen” and who are “Next Gen” employees?

This term loosely refers to a community of professionals who are under 40 years old, and who will inevitably replace the rapidly retiring workforce currently over the age of 55. It is imperative that you invest your time into these younger professionals, known as the Next Gen of our industry. This is the group of professionals who will have the best chance of getting fire sprinklers into single-family homes in the U.S. They will transform our companies and our industry in ways we’ve yet to realize and appreciate. They will reinvent, improve upon, and perfect what we’ve built over the last several decades. We must invest our time towards this group, and we must empower them through encouraging industry involvement and continuing education. The future of our industry depends on this investment, and our industry requires this investment now!

I have a unique perspective on this issue because I am both a Next Gen professional and a leader within my company who is already investing in and empowering the young professionals we employ. If given the opportunity to speak for Next Gen professionals, I would want you to know that not all employees under the age of 40 are the Next Gen of our industry; there are plenty of “bad eggs” out there.

I would also want you to know that not all Next Gen professionals are under the age of 40; we’re inclusive regardless of age. Next Gen professionals thrive when we’re acknowledged for our successes, and when we feel needed by our coworkers. We crave a challenge and we aren’t afraid to reinvent the wheel if that’s what is required to solve a problem. Next Gen professionals believe in an ideology similar to “work smart to avoid working hard.” We perform well under pressure and under deadlines, if provided with the resources and tools necessary to complete the job. We often offer unsolicited advice, opinions, and ideas that would benefit the company’s bottom line.

As a leader within my company, I would encourage you to realize the value of investing your time into Next Gen employees. There is no greater loss than a lost opportunity because the value of the loss is never accurately measured. It’s a loss that cannot be measured and that makes it worth avoiding.

If you’re not investing your time, personally, in coaching your Next Gen professionals then you’re missing an opportunity. If you’re not pairing up Next Gen professionals within your company with 10-, 20-, and 30-year sprinkler professionals, then you’re missing an opportunity. If you’re not producing a work environment and culture conducive to knowledge transfer then you’re missing an opportunity.

In a span of the last two years and the next six years, my company will see over 140 years of experience retire from the sprinkler industry. I measure the value of opportunity that could be lost as 140 years of experience, contacts, and lessons learned. Have you done this exercise for your company lately? What do you stand to lose in the next three years because of retiring employees? If you see the value of what you stand to lose, then you must realize the value of what you stand to gain by investing in your Next Gen professionals. If you’re going to invest in this group, invest with your most valuable currency: your time!

In our company, we’ve taken huge strides to prepare for our coworkers nearing retirement. Our manager of inside sales and customer service is less than 30 years old. Our manager of stocklisting and fabrication sales is less than 30 years old. We have two shipping and fabrication facilities with branch managers that are less than 35 years old. Our purchasing agent and inventory control manager is less than 25 years old.

We are incentivizing our older workforce to pair up and mentor our younger workforce. We are assigning company improvement projects to groups of younger and older professionals. This kind of orchestrated collaboration allows for ideas to mesh and transference of knowledge to occur. We have monthly “all-hands” conference calls where employees can communicate with each other across department lines and across age barriers. Our culture has improved and continues to change for the better.

We’ve made a conscious effort to invest our time into coaching and molding our Next Gen professionals and we’ve pushed them to get involved in the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s (AFSA) local chapters, Society of Fire Protection Engineers’ (SFPE) local chapters, and AFSA national committees. Our people are attending association meetings and running for office on association committees. Through this involvement, they’re learning new products, new installation practices, and they’re staying informed on what’s happening in our industry. The networking and exposure is giving them access to new ideas that help us achieve our goals and help us raise the bar year after year. The result is young coworkers getting what they want from their employer. They’re getting attention from their managers; they’re getting respect for what they’re capable of doing; they’re getting guidance and mentorship; and they’re feeling appreciated for their contributions of time and talent.

We are investing as much time as we can into our Next Gen professionals. As it stands currently, I work with one of the most talented groups of Next Gen professionals in the fire sprinkler industry. If you don’t believe me, do a self-analysis of your company and ask yourself if you’re putting enough emphasis on the future of your company. Is your Next Gen ready? Are you ready for the next wave of retirees? We are!


About the Author: 

Joshua LeonhardtJoshua Leonhardt is executive vice president of Leonhardt Pipe & Supply, Inc., Huntersville, North Carolina. AFSA members since 2004, Leonhardt Pipe & Supply is a multi-generational family owned and operated company that aims to become a master distributor and fabricator of fire protection and fire sprinkler products for generations to come. Leonhardt is a member of AFSA’s NextGen Initiative. He can be reached via email at jleonhardt@leonhardtpipe.com

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