Communication Is Key: Effectively Communicating Across Generations


Words: Adrian Dominguez
Photo: MilanMarkovic

We’ve all heard that familiar complaint: “Kids these days!” The ornery mindset that forms in our heads after those words are spoken settles in quickly, firmly influencing our behavior towards these young up-and-comers. The term “generation” is usually defined in duration as about 20 to ⁠30 years, and the old-fears-young dynamic has appeared consistently across each passing age group. Given this must eventually lead to weaker successors, does it actually apply? A research paper in the Journal for Science Advances suggests that people of older age groups experiencing this effect are often conflating unreliable past experiences with present circumstances. Comparing this idealized version of their own history unfavorably and universally to their younger counterparts helps enforce the dated concept of lazy, disrespectful youth even further (1). This predisposition makes connecting with a new crop of youngsters more daunting, but the success in any industry lies in successfully adapting to change. 

The field of masonry is no different: as families pass businesses and knowledge down to their next of kin, there is no doubt generational hurdles often upset the crucial balance between tradition and innovation. The industry has a unique place with regards to this dilemma given the heavy emphasis on an apprenticeship as old meets young in new ways to forge innovations in the field. Instructor Curtis Hoover tells MASONRY Magazine about the importance of bridging the divide between generations: “They’re just as important as the old guys because their replacements are the (younger) generation.” The Masonry Hall of Fame inductee goes on to detail the ways in which the sides meet together, specifying the roles of mentorship, communication, and comradery in cementing the collaboration. “Show them why they’re doing what they do and why it is so important,” says Mr. Hoover speaking to the success of teaming up rather than feuding.  Indeed, there are quite a few tools to help bring the two age groups together in cooperation when properly utilized. 

Mentorship has always been a valued strategy in learning one’s trade, but it bears a prominent and powerful place in the relationship between generations. “Because at the end of the day, somebody worked with me” stated Mr. Shaver, with regards to his own training. “Without that mentor, I would have never got where I’m at.” This leads to an emphasis on instilling mentorship into the next group of upcoming professionals, as the mentor-to-mentee bond is such a natural way to pass knowledge down. This approach is also a great avenue to reshape methodology with respect to quality assurance. Mr. Shaver elaborates on the dynamic: “I’ve learned a lot of techniques that work with different generations,” implying a steady evolution of standard practices with respect to trends/demands. Taking this route would also seem to suggest the opposite of what comes to mind if every successive group was indeed getting worse! 

But thanks to the development of programming like after-school masonry clubs, touring for apprenticeship training across different cities, and cross-training between fields related to masonry, Mr. Shaver has expanded the ways teachers and instructors can reach more industry hopefuls. Guiding apprentices with what he calls learning “how to move up the ladder faster,” the mentorship piece here propels mentees forward productively as established mason contractors become all the more eager to work with those serious about a career in masonry. This is a common occurrence Mr. Shaver states, going on to say while there may not always be masonry training in the area, often related areas such as agriculture or carpentry can be an inroad to teaching the trade or perhaps even a job. This is a natural way to build word-of-mouth among industry peers and professionals, and overall great networking tool to connect different yet related fields to explore. 

The bridging of the generations leads to new methods, utilizing unique approaches. Social media, for example, affords an easy way to get anyone familiar with the medium on board in an easily digestible form of information, marketing, and/or communication. As connectivity is becoming more readily available and accessible, having a modernized way of getting the word out incentivizes updating standard practices for those industry professionals who may need the refresher too. Looking for a method of drawing new minds to teach, Mr. Shaver states that despite his own traditional hands-on nature he too must utilize the new medium for outreach, implying the younger group which knows the tech very well may even act in the capacity of mentor to their instructor’s social media mentee! 

Social media doesn’t just offer new marketing approaches for veterans to explore and refine with their younger counterparts, but the flexibility in which the medium is consumed today allows for all different manners of opportunities to spark connections between generations. Mr. Shaver utilized a webinar format to get the word out about the importance of the prior generation relating to and guiding the next: “the social media aspect has turned out to be a huge tool.” In a post-pandemic America, this level of access not only brings more minds to the table but the perspectives will also be more diverse, especially considering the prospect of incoming masonry professionals whose careers just started. 

Examples include training sessions getting posted online for new and veteran mason contractors from a variety of sources and in multiple formats, or utilizing/promoting a training tour to build connections and relationships with up-and-coming mason contractors. With more advances in social media always on the horizon, so too would there be new opportunities for mason industry professionals of various ages to help put the word out.

Social Media and mentorship are important, but they need to be done as a unit, the cornerstone of any effective strategy in collaboration. The sense of belonging is an important basic need: given our social nature, it only makes sense to feel the need for being appreciated by those around us. This holds true on the jobsite: “you got to make them feel like they’re part of the team” as Mr. Hoover puts it. Having the appropriate attitude to facilitate the team dynamic is paramount as the onus falls on the previous generations, acting as de-facto gatekeepers to the industry. Speaking to having a positive attitude, Mr. Shaver talks about what the older generations see in the training instilled by instructors like himself: “when they see that young generation coming in doing that, there’s a little bit of mutual respect.” 

Mr. Hoover would also mention some other examples of teamwork that came to mind, such as promoting an environment where 40-year veterans can ask new employees of their own takes on a job. “The guy’s been here 20 years, talk to him, just like you would talk to the kids who have been here 20 days” he added, stressing a fair and equal space among employees. Whether that takes the form of training veteran professionals in newer standards or practical experience for newcomers, the interplay between both groups as equal partners benefits everyone. “Respect promotes respect” added Mr. Shaver, stating his reasons for his preferred teaching method of an empathetic approach as opposed to the stereotypical “drill sergeant” method he or many others may expect to endure. 

Keeping any trade viable and up-to-date typically falls on the professionals within it collectively improving and refining best practices to best serve its need. The masonry industry relies on the wealth of information passed on by the previous group. This would not have been possible without recognizing that like any trade masonry needs to grow. The successful passing of the torch can only be done when both hands do their part, and this field has made many strides in updating for a new marketplace. With a generation now so used to technology in different formats and virtual meetings, the fresh take works well in tempering old-world attitudes with new and modern approaches. The balance of new and old between the generational gap seems much smaller today, with lots of ways to innovate, learn, and grow. As it would turn out, the “kids these days” have something of their own to contribute after all; they are doing just fine!

  1. Protzko J. and Schooler J. (2019). Kids these days: Why the youth of today seem lacking Science Advances. 5(10), 10.1126/sciadv.aav5916
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