Generation Snowflake Will Soon Be Knocking At Our Door

I remember having a discussion with a few seasoned truck drivers and Owner-Operators regarding the ideal student to teach how to drive a truck. They all agreed that young men who were raised on a farm were by far the best and easiest to teach. I certainly agreed with them. After all, I knew that my husband was a natural when he started his own trucking business. He grew up on a farm and could easily operate, maintain and repair any type of equipment. As they fantasized about this ideal candidate, I reminded them that their fantasy is far from the reality of today’s job market. Simply put… this dream student is a dying breed.

Since 1960 there has been a steep decline in the family farm. Today, with Canada’s population at over 32 million, only 2% live and work on family farms. And sadly over half of this 2% are now over 50 years old. It’s not easy to figure out that the pool of strong, able farm boys is quite shallow. Individuals interested in becoming truck drivers now come from varied backgrounds. Even if you thought that it was impossible to train a cook to become a truck driver, I can assure you it happens. The traditional farm boy has been replaced by other professions and it works.

But there’s another demographic factor that may be more challenging than the loss of the farm boy in the training of truck drivers. It’s the clash of values driven by a multi-generational workforce. Core beliefs and entrenched behaviours can collide when members of different generations work and learn together.

It’s what came to mind last week while I was watching a news panel. They were discussing the modern phenomenon of the new generation about to enter the workforce. They are referred to as the Snowflakes. This is the term that captures their dominant traits of being easily ‘offended’ and should be protected from anything that could make them feel ‘uncomfortable’. This is the new generation that will soon be knocking on the trucking industry’s door.

It got me thinking. How will this new generation fare during the rigors of truck driver training and eventually as employees in the trucking industry? This generation believes that they are beautiful and perfectly unique but they are also quite fragile and can melt under the tiniest bit of heat. There is a huge generational divide between the Snowflakes and our current aging workforce who dominate the trucking industry. It’s important to also remember that the majority of our instructors are also part of this aging workforce. They are the ones who will be training these new drivers.

It’s easy to see that there are fundamental differences in the belief systems between those of different generations. Understanding what drives each generation may help us all to learn better and work together. Even if we don’t always agree with the values of a generation, it is possible to appreciate their strengths. We can certainly refer to lessons learned from what is currently happening in the workforce. The Veterans and the Boomers (post war generations) have been successfully working alongside the Generation X (children of Boomers) and Generation Y (children of Gen Xers).

The older workers who are Boomers and Veterans are more private, work hard, want to accumulate wealth and have a great respect for authority and hierarchy. They are also more formal and prefer communication that is written or oral. They value formal dress and organizational structures. They are also proud of the fact that they can ‘tell it like it is’ and often forego political correctness.

The Generation X grew up in the shadow of their Boomer parents. They are the children of two working parents who became very self-reliant, individualist and determined. They watched their parents work hard for their company and for their personal wealth only to suffer downsizing and restructuring. As a result, they do not have the same loyalty to their employers and they are determined to maintain a work-life balance. This also makes them more entrepreneurial and focused.

Generation Y grew up where everyone was a winner. Their confidence has propelled them to become highly educated and socially conscious. They prefer a more collaborative approach in the workplace where differences are respected and their opinions are valued. Their most important feature is that they are the first truly digital generation. Laptops, the Internet and smartphones have always been part of their lives and drive all of their activities.

Bridging the generational gaps in the workplace has been a constant challenge but also a benefit. When Generation Y is present, they bring new technological solutions to the organization. They are also able to help develop these skills with the other ‘pen and paper’ generations. Both the Gen Xers and Generation Y benefit from the experience and real life approach that the Boomers bring to their workplace.

We have seen close relationships develop between our multi-generational workforces. We have been successful because we have made a commitment to constant education and training. It has also been important to accommodate generational values in which work life balance is a top priority. Successful carriers are also making important changes that motivate youth to enter the industry.

So this takes me back to the Snowflakes. In the next 15 to 20 years, the Generation X and Y will soon dominate the workforce and will step up into the leadership roles. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. They will have to harness the strengths of the Snowflakes and encourage them to learn from their experience.

From Wikipedia:
Generation Snowflake, or Snowflake Generation, is a term that refers to young people, typically university or college students, who seek to avoid emotionally charged topics or dissenting ideas and opinions.


Louise Philbin
Co-founder and Education Director
5th Wheel Training Institute
Haileybury, Ontario