There’s been an interesting conversation floating around on social media this past week, revolving mostly around a blog by my Beef Producer colleague, Alan Newport.
Read it for yourself here, but Alan essentially recounts a seminar by management consultant Don Tyler, in which he talks about the state of our work force, particularly those youngest workers of the Millennial generation. Alan - who, if you could hear him, would hear him say it in his loveliest Oklahoma drawl - came away concerned, shall we say. Concerned mostly because Tyler claims young folks don’t know the meaning of integrity and honesty. “I believe the social ramifications are frightening,” Alan adds.
Yesterday, I began seeing Alan’s blog pop up on Facebook, as a handful of young farmers and ranchers discussed whether or not Tyler’s observations were a) true, and b) applied to them. Then Andy Vance, Ohio writer, broadcaster and blogger for Beef Producer, addressed the same topic on his blog.
You may well have noticed the name of this blog is My Generation, as is the name of my 10ish-year column in Prairie Farmer. So no surprise that over the course of that run, I’ve addressed generational differences a time or two, including how to work together. Here’s what I’ve learned: there are good and bad brushstrokes to be made in every generation. And each generation is particularly good at pointing out the poorer qualities of the younger generations, and the better qualities of their own generation. See, I can do it, too: “Those darn kids. They think they can text the whole time they’re at work.” (And I’m not even *that* much older than them! See how easy that was?!)
Folks will decry making generalities about a large group of people, though that’s exactly what sociology does. Generalities and trends help us identify changes over time and pinpoint ways of working together better. Yet, obviously, those generalities don’t apply to every person in that age group. Not every single member of the WWII generation was a saver and a worker, but many were. Not every Boomer tried to make the world a better place, but many did. Not every Gen Xer is totally adept at technology, but many are. Not every Millennial is a social networking butterfly, but many are.
So here’s my take: Agriculture may not be immune to the integrity gap Tyler describes among young people, but I really don‘t think it‘s as bad here. I think kids who are raised on real working farms have a better feel for a day’s hard work. I think they grow into adults who know how to work hard in their jobs, and who know the difference between right and wrong. I think farm kids are more likely to be raised near and under the influence of grandparents, giving them insight into more than just their parents’ generation and way of thinking.
The kicker is that just 2% of the population is farming. Alan’s essential question was that if America is raising a generation that can’t define honesty or integrity, how can anything in a free society function if future generations are liars and cheaters? Two percent may not be enough, and agricultural Millennials may find themselves a frustrated bunch.