Institution news

‘Generations in the workplace’ debate launches Benelux Discussion Café

World Bulletin Team

The Benelux Branch of the Institution has launched a series of events in the format of a Discussion Café.

Members from a range of professional institutions met in an informal evening setting to share opinions about an issue that affects all branches of engineering.

The first meeting, held in Rotterdam, considered older workers’ skills and the burgeoning role of artificial intelligence. Opinions gathered in the debate were supplemented by responses to an online survey.

The topic ‘Generations in the Workplace’ will be investigated from different points of view throughout 2017 and the next Discussion Café will consider the role of younger workers.

You can have your say by coming along on 11 April to the Van der Valk hotel in Maastricht from 6.30pm (see Near You) or via a short online survey.

After some fascinating debate the first Discussion Café concluded – perhaps controversially – that senior technical professionals already have many of the skills needed for the future, and that the main thing the older generation can learn from younger workers is how to be adaptable to change.

According to Paul Bennington, Chairman of the Benelux Branch: “There was no end of examples where the younger generations do things differently at work, but the debate in the Discussion Café was not convinced that these differences were either better or necessary.”

A contributor, who responded via the online survey, suggested: “The young will bring new ideas and working methods. The older workers can learn how to use these new methods, and improve them with the benefit of experience.”

Debaters considered some effects of the ageing demographic, such as the extended working lives of older employees and the dynamic between younger and older people within the workplace.

They considered the increasing presence of artificial intelligence (AI), discussing whether different age groups would be competing for jobs not overtaken by AI – and which age group would adapt and survive best in the workplace of the future.

It was noted that historical knowledge and experience (a feature of older employees) would be one of the first targets for AI. Whereas technical expertise could be taken over by AI, this is not the same for experience in customer relations, team working, trust, cultural understanding and ‘gut feel’, which are key human skills, improved over time.

Other aspects of modern working that were discussed included: whether using social media was sometimes misinterpreted as networking; the pitfalls of innovation for innovation’s sake; the importance of good quality data, which is not always dependably supplied by computers; the ability of younger workers to gather and assimilate data quickly; and the possibility that older workers may slow down the decision-making process, which can have positive outcomes.

Strengths of the younger working generation, which will be more fully considered at the next Discussion Café, included an aptitude to respond to change; and high expectations and standards for communication.

Read the full report of the first event.

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