Shop Humor: "GOOD LORD, THE NEW HIRE IS ONE OF THOSE MILLENNIALS!" or 
"OMG, MY BOSS IS A BABY BOOMER!"

submitted by Bruce Willey

 

In a situation as never-ending as work itself, old farts and young punks are having to put up with each other in the workplace. It’s been a struggle ever since some hunter-gatherer interns started bashing stuff with sticks and rocks instead of using their fists, as the gods meant them to. Big thinkers have been putting a lot of thought into ways to help the different generations work better together, and one of those ways was coming up with the notion that there are distinct generations.

           

 

 

Now you might be saying; “Hey, dude, I’m Generation X (or Baby Boomer or Millennial or Generation Z) and proud of it!” You even might claim to be in one of the sub-generations like Generation Jones or the Xennial aka “Oregon Trail” Generation (which is based on having played the computer game in school, not on having been a pioneer on the actual trail, ya wise guy!)

 

                            

 

You really young wise guys might be in Generation YZ, who are the newest members of the workforce and who lucked out with their generational moniker. But do these labels mean anything? Can it really be said that, as a generation, Boomers are more “ambitious”, Gen Xers more ”flexible”, Millennials more “innovative” and Z’s more tech-savvy?

 

[Source for all but the Z part: http://www.wmfc.org/uploads/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf]

 

Whether or not people have such defined traits because of when they were born, their work habits and attitudes were definitely affected by their culture growing up and what the available technology was at different times of their lives. This is no less true for model makers than anyone else.

 

The 70’s and 80’s, when the Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers were starting work, was the end of an era in how people experienced employment and did their work. Employees expected they could work for the same company all their lives. They planned around that and were very loyal to their employers. They challenged aspects of the system but very few of them wanted to completely get rid of it.

 

Workers were gaining access to computers for the first time but having them in every office wasn’t common yet.. As it had been for decades, a “database” was still more likely to be a rolodex full of contacts, drawers full of documents and shelves full of reference books and catalogs.

 

                                   

 

Communication only happened through your desk/home phone or in a face-to-face meeting or by fax or mail. There was no instantaneous sharing of data unless you were talking together. It could take a long time to get an answer to a question when you weren’t talking to someone knowledgeable so it was inconvenient and the boss didn’t like it if you didn’t know answers on-the-spot or if the information wasn’t close at hand. Learning about new tools, techniques and materials involved reading industry publications that came in the mail, or from sales calls, going to classes or networking at industry conferences, etc. To acquire anything, you had to make a call or a visit and work with other people. It helped to know people who were in the know.

 

For almost anyone in the model biz, documentation was drawings or plots on paper and your goal was to get the model’s top, front and side views to all look like what the designer had in mind, or at least look like the picture.

 

 

 

You had to hope the designers made a decent guess at what all the views would look like in the days before they started working in 3D CAD.  Almost all model makers only had sweeps, French curves, ellipse templates, radius gauges, and the therapeutic; pushing-wires-against-stuff tool (that ISN’T A TOY! Stop playing with it!) to capture and transfer contours.

 

 

 

You used these things to draw on the stock and manually shape or machine it; and also to check how close you were to the drawing. Manufacturing industries may have been going digital at this time but model makers still mostly had to extrapolate surfaces from 2D data. We were mostly still in what could be called the ORTHOGRAPHIC ERA. Being able to use these tools to do this work is a source of pride for most who did it.

 

Through the late 80’s and the 90’s, the amazingly compact “personal computer” proliferated and was eventually on the desk of pretty much anyone at work who had need for one.

 

 

 

Lots more communication started happening through inter-office and then intra-office email and file-sharing. It became possible to find more and more information via computer very quickly. You could have a large network of suppliers without ever meeting them due to on-line ordering. Gen Xers, who had used computers in school, took to email quickly, as did technophile older workers. This often annoyed managers, who weren’t used to having to write or check their email and didn’t like its often brief, casual tone and how impersonal everything was becoming. Some managers were also not impressed that their staff no longer knew anything off the top of their heads or said they’d have to “research it”, because research had always been slow and difficult. Plus their staff could be at their desks, seemingly working, when actually they were sending each other cartoons or playing games at their “work”stations instead of wasting time in the traditional manner hanging around at the coffeemaker.

 

The Gen Xers who started work in the 90’s typically didn’t feel the same sense of loyalty to their company as older workers because they didn’t expect to stay there for the rest of their lives. They tried to fit in and took rules and deadlines, etc. as seriously as anyone but they often had very little tolerance for wasteful actions like using paper unnecessarily, or holding meetings to impart information that could have been shared electronically. They thought their employers and other companies and institutions should be transparent and accountable. They’d been brought up with the (at that time new) notion of “hacker as hero” from movies like ‘War Games’, ‘Hacker’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘The Matrix’ and others. These latter Gen Xers believed that hacking could make a positive impact on how the system worked.

 

Meanwhile, in the model making world, increasingly inexpensive computers powerful enough to handle huge files and processing-intensive activities like NURBS surfacing allowed CAD/CAM users to go quickly and accurately from this:

 

   

 

 

to this:

 

 

 to this:

      

and then this:

 

:     

 

Many model makers still had to extrapolate surfaces from 2D data and build the 3D CAD model as well as the physical model, but computers and CNC equipment had become a dominant factor in model making. We had entered the CAD/CAMbrian ERA.

 

In the new millennium, entire industries had moved outside the country or even vanished, while new ones were popping up. It seemed like everybody had a cellphone and was yapping on it constantly. The internet was starting to get social media sites and crowdsourcing of information was happening. Lots of people were embarking on their second (or third or…) career while a rising tide of computer- and internet- savvy Millennials were starting their first. This new cohort was more diverse. They expected (and were willing to give) more individualized attention than their predecessors did. They were connected to their coworkers, friends and families through the internet and their phones and expected fast responses to important messages. They also expected their workplace to have a webpage and, later, a social media presence. They wanted their work and lives to have meaning. A shockingly high number of them had tattoos! 

 

 

Older workers often saw the millennials as impatient. They thought the millennials were lacking in fundamental skills because they’d always had easy access to computers. Earlier cellphones were looked upon as toys and a distraction in the workplace but after smart phones were introduced they became an indispensable part of life, including work, for many. There was a lot of tension between those who embraced them and those who still thought a person couldn’t be working if they were looking at their phone. A lot of workers who could handle work calls and email away from their desk or who were calculating a conversion while at the workbench, or googling an unfamiliar term in a meeting felt like getting in trouble was a sign of management not recognizing reality. A “phone” had become an extension of a person’s mental and physical capabilities and a huge step forward in productivity.  A system that wouldn’t recognize that fact was obsolete.

 

 

 

Now, model makers seldom have to do the task of extrapolating surfaces from 2D data any more. 3D scanning, easy-to-use software and the expanded variety of 3D printing and automated cutting/machining processes have made it possible for sophisticated presentation pieces and complex working prototypes to be generated by more people with less training. Students, educators and hiring managers are wondering what skills will still be relevant for Millennial and Gen Z model makers to have for the future.

 

 

 

Demographics, technology and culture are changing the workplace very quickly. Millennials have recently become the largest working-age group. “Hacking” has gone beyond computers and specific actions and people talk about hacking things like “democracy” and “employment”. The Maker Movement is blurring the line between hobby and career.  Some things haven’t changed, though. Why don’t the newer workers do their work the right way? Why do the older workers insist the work has to be done that way?  Well, you don’t have to like how other people prefer to work, but understanding the reasons they have for preferring it that way will help you tolerate it.

 

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