Barnes: The advantages of youth

Younger IT professionals bring a new energy, drive and 'why not' attitude

The auto industry's technologies and designs fascinated and captured the imagination of a new generation of drivers in the 1990s. No doubt those designs also caused some people who remember Oldsmobile's heyday to hold their breath, fearing what might be around the bend.

A similar situation exists in the information technology community — seasoned federal IT professionals are sometimes put off by the enthusiasm and energy of younger workers who want to leave their mark. The problem is that seasoned employees cannot afford to be offended.

We need to hire, retain and develop a cadre of younger IT professionals who will be ready to meet our future challenges. It is worth our time and energy to integrate them into the workplace.

Younger IT professionals bring other perspectives to the workplace. Frequently, they carry energy, drive and the benefit of a recent education. They also have plenty of new ideas. Their "why not" attitude sometimes causes us to pause and reconsider.

Many younger workers want to slay dragons. As leaders, our job is to identify the dragons, provide the sword and make sure the thrust is true.

We certainly have dragons that challenge us. We need to trust our judgment that involving talented younger workers in tackling those dragons will benefit them and us. We should give them room to be creative.

Younger workers are excited about their chosen fields, and they want to stay current with the latest technology. Teaching them about making good technology decisions and about the marketplace and new tools can yield surprising and pleasant results.

We need to ensure that training and development programs are structured and effective. We should offer young workers opportunities to apply their training shortly after they receive it.

They also need guidance in the form of mentors. Younger workers should work with seasoned professionals who have the maturity, confidence, interest and skills to channel young workers' creative energies in cost-effective ways. Mentors can help steer younger workers as they make career decisions.

Mentors also can serve as champions in identifying assignments that will broaden their protégé experiences and develop their skills.

The next-generation workforce will be increasingly global, virtual and diverse. Autonomous and empowered, it will demand new thinking about how to manage talented employees. Rewards and communications will need to be personalized, and our current leaders will need to manage through influence rather than by command.

The more we can structure such elements into a thoughtful program focused on the development of our future IT leaders, the more effective it will be.

Barnes is deputy associate director of the Center for Information Services and chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management. She can be reached at jlbarnes@opm.gov.

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