Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bridging the Generation Gap, Part I

"Encontro das Aguas" - The Meeting of the Waters - a spectacular phenomenon just off Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas, a state in the northwest of Brazil. For at least 3 miles, there is a clear demarcation as the dark waters of the Rio Negro flow alongside the sandy colored waters of the Rio Solimoes swirling around at the center in some slow dance but never mixing.   In ATC too, there is a similar dance called intergenerational conflict.

NASA MISR image of the confluence of the 2 rivers, Manaus is the grey-white  patch

Last week 10 controllers from around the world were asked the following question:-
Do you think that a generation gap exists in ATC and why Yes/No?
How would you have answered? Reflect for a moment on the members of your work group/team/shift, other groups and the staff of management. How many generations can you identify?
Which of your managers are Traditionalists, born before 1945? 
Are there any managers who are Baby Boomers, born between 1945-1964? 
How many trainers are Generation Xers, born between 1965-1979? 
The controller who relieved you from your position this morning, is she a Millenial, born between 1980-1994? 
And the assistant controllers who just started training, how many of them are from the Linkster generation, (Johnson & Johnson, 2012) born in 1995?  
5 generations, working side by side, swirling but never mixing like our Brazilian counterparts. The work climate is certainly ripe for intergenerational differences (Deyoe and Fox, 2011)! Does the phenomenon of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes teach us anything about intergenerational conflict?
The reasons proffered for the cordial relations between the 2 rivers are the temperature, density, pH and the velocity rate of flow. We have the warmer, crystalline, more acidic, dark brown to almost black waters of  the Rio Negro lazily meandering along the rippling, cooler, sand colored waters of the River Solimoes. There is a fifth reason. 
They originate from different sources, the Rio Solimoes comes from the Peruvian, Andes Mountains situated on the left and the Rio Negro comes from the Venezuelan, Orinoco watershed on the right. They come from the left and the right to a confluence at a central location, just as ATCOs coming from different generations; with different value systems and outlook on life,  shaped according to the era in which they were born, converge at a unit for the purpose of ATC. What does it feel like to be working alongside different generations?

Murat from Turkey, a Generation Xer and a team leader answers in the affirmative, that a generation gap does exist. He observed that the younger generations are not interested in the whole aspect of ATC operations. They do not understand what it means to be part of a team, that the team has a soul of its own. 
"They are only concerned with what they need to do and nothing more", he says. "There is no caring, no empathy and no sympathy."
Francis from Trinidad, a Baby Boomer, retired controller and part time instructor also agreed that a generation gap is present in ATC. He admires the techno savy of the younger generations and the amazing speed with which they learn to do ATC but he laments that they "lack the wit [and the wisdom] to recognize that they are providing a service and included in that service is developing the ability to make the pilots feel comfortable".
Nicolas is from Cyprus, another Baby Boomer and Air Transport Counsellor at the European Union Office in Brussels. He too, responds positively like Francis and Murat. What was his observation? 
"As in all other professions such as pilots, teachers, doctors, even footballers...nowadays,  the main motive is not anymore the love and affection for the profession itself but the motive of remuneration and prospects.
Which of the above statements do you agree with? Nicolas mentions that the generation gap is present in other professions. In February 2011, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 72% of the 434 HR professionals identified intergenerational conflict as a workplace problem (Gale, 2012). Notice, it is not the problem of hiring younger generations and they alone are not culpable of causing tense situations at work. They have been observing the older generations and they too would like to share their sentiments. 
In tomorrow's post; (I am making up for my weekend absence), we will consider the situation from the perspective of the younger generations and we will consider some practical ways in which we can bridge the generation gap.

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  1. Here is a comment from Jitender KUMAR, Head of Aviation Safety and Management, INDIA:-
    Yes generation Gap does exist in ATC .

    1. Old ATCO ( ATC Officer) , being experienced tends to get emotionally attached and generally shows greater commitment. It does not mean that the newer generation lacks commitment/ emotions. Because they have grown in a more technically sophisticated world , their direct/ physical interaction with human beings has reduced and cyber interaction has improved. So the attachment with the spoken human voice has reduced. Data handling in CPDLC may be ok, response to aircraft emergency may not be as PERSONAL as in case of an old ATCO. On the other hand, youngsters are fantastic at computers so oldies have to lose to them as most ATC systems theses days are computer based except Visual observations in tower/ speech. So conflict in Professional potential !!

    2. Eating/ drinking / sleeping habits are different so youngsters tend to have Hangovers which can't be tolerated by elders ( safety is also an issue not only Generation Gap). So Conflict of life style.

    3. Youngsters are risk takers in personal & professional life which oldies can't afford to so conflict of perspective!!

    However youngsters bring fun, enthusiasm to our life, we need to channalise their energy and ignore some of their mistakes. Don't keep preaching!!

    Similarly youngsters need to value the experience and encash the experience especially when the circumstances are challenging. They deserve respect and hearing .

    ATC being a mix of generation is a good fun and a good place to learn ( Even human behaviors of different generations) !!

  2. Comment from Paul Goess, ATC Instructor at Dallas/Ft Worth Tracon:
    "I agree that there is a noticeable difference in the work ethic between each generation. It becomes magnified as the difference between the two is greater (ex. baby boomer to millennial) .

    My opinion only, is that a millennial will do the minimum requirements to reach certification but not go beyond that. There appears to be an "entitlement" factor with many of the younger employees."

  3. Comment from Kyle Beamsderfer, ATCO, FAA, US:
    "Very true. I have seen it. You can tell in the training methods of old vs new controllers, and the attitudes assumed by old vs new."

  4. Comment from Jay Moffat, A. T. Cord & Co., Chicago, U.S:
    "The "entitlement" comment concerns me as it assumes that the generational difference is specific to all within that generation. I my opinion entitlement is a learned behavior and can be addressed by retraining away from entitlement and more towards personal responsibility. Many societally factors of entitlement are not addressed in the air traffic control training but instead are enhanced.

    As good as the ATSAP program is in opening up doors to enhancing the safety culture, it closed the door slightly on the role of personal responsibility. The fear of losing your profession after "3 deals in 30 months" had a direct impact on taking risk and accepting responsibility for the actions. ATSAP has been far less effective in developing personal responsibility and it could be argued that it supports the "entitlement" theory with its "get out of jail free" response for turning yourself in within 24 hours of being caught.

    Technology advances in the air traffic system are also suspect in my opinion. The "older controller" did not immediately trust the new tools. The validation process was extremely slow and methodical. The "newer Controller" has been brought up with technology and accepts it as doing what is expected. When technology "burps", the old veteran usually doesn't miss a beat due to all the tools in the experienced controllers bag. The new controller lacks some of those experienced tools and therefore may appear to have a lesser work ethic when in reality it could be characterized as just less experience.

    One could argue that this "entitlement" theory has its roots back in the 70s and therefore it is not specific to this new group of air traffic controllers. The push towards "affirmative action" from the Jimmy Carter era was appropriate for society but lacked "common sense" when it came to some professions, especially professions that contained high performance standards. This filling a job based on any criteria other than is this the most capable person for the position had great impact on the profession. Many controllers were tainted because they received a job based on the perception that is was due to something other than ability. One could argue that is what we are seeing now when we talk about work ethics, only the perimeters have changed with time.

    Until the industry adopts very measurable standards in a matrix that includes variables such as attendance during weather events (in my opinion a true show of work ethics as I saw plenty of sick leave use around tense weather periods), providing minimum separation within a range of absolute minimum to 10% over versus overly separating (again the lazier controller is not known for working harder to achieve maximum performance and therefore better on time performance for our user base), use of proper phraseology and voice cadence (an easy to measure variable that enhances efficiency and safety) and a host of other objective standards to measure performance we will continue to have the debate over work ethics and job performance. As long as subjective opinions are allowed to enter into the evaluation we will allow for continued debate over this issue."

  5. Comment from Eilon Tal, Head of International Liaison ATM Training & QA Israel Airports Authority:
    "with us there is a marked generation gap after the massive youngsters recruitment. Their approach of new technologies is more intuitive and smooth but there is clearly a generation integration issue between young and older people and it needs to be addressed on a constant basis."

  6. Calvin Smith, Technical Manager at Flatirons Solutions Corp, Kentucky U.S:
    "While all the comments have some validity, the ATC systems are equally at fault. Thequality of training has been reduced for cost savings and we believe each new technology is always going to make the job better. Its just like pilots, increased automation has reduced their ability to "fly" the plane. Air France 447 comes to mind, howcould 3 well qualified pilots recognize a stall even at altitude. We forget to work the traffic, and we still have not troubleshoot the problem. "