Generation Y: Why You Can't Connect



Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P | From the November 2009 Issue | Thursday, November 5, 2009

Beloit College recently released its "mindset list" for the class of 2013. This list serves as a reminder to educators and other professionals who work with young adults that this age group has a different mentality than others before it, due to the events its members have (and have not) experienced.

The vast majority of the class of 2013 was born in 1991. In 1991, I was 33 years old, had been in EMS for about 14 years, and was working for the city of St. Louis. I was married, had a daughter who was already two years old, had another on the way and was in graduate school. It doesn't seem that long ago. But I'm discovering, just like my father warned me, that "The older you get, the faster it goes." Now, the kids who were born in 1991 are getting ready to enter college.

The mindset list reminds us older adults how much "time flies." Entering freshmen have grown up in a culture very different from earlier generations. They form opinions and react to certain situations and concepts much differently than you might.

Some of us may be supervising these teenagers now, or will be in the future. In my case, not only will I wind up supervising them, but my daughter fits this category, so the list gives me insight into how she thinks.

Here are some of my favorites from this year's list. They clearly spell out why these "kids" think differently:

  • They've never used a card catalog to find a book.
  • Rap music has always been mainstream.
  • They've never had to "shake down" an oral thermometer.
  • There have always been flat-screen televisions.
  • They've always watched wars, military coups and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
  • They've always been able to read books electronically.
  • None of them have ever responded to, "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up."
  • Tattoos, once thought "lower class," are to them quite chic.

Managing Generations

Almost every EMS manager today has struggled with generational differences at one point, and I've heard many people from my generation say things like, "These young kids have no idea." Also, if we had an issue or update on replacing medical supplies, someone in my age group would probably distribute a memo in hard copy, whereas someone younger might write the same memo in e-mail format and send it to everyone in the department. I bet freshman entering college this year would send that same memo via text message.

Four different generations of workers exist today: the veterans (1922Ï1945), baby boomers (1946Ï1964), Generation X (1965Ï1980) and Generation Y (1981Ï2000). And in EMS, it's possible that all four of these groups are represented in an organization and that they all interact on a daily basis. This mix creates challenges and opportunities for the EMS manager because each generation has

its strengths and weaknesses.

EMS managers should realize that younger workers aren't typically interested in long-term careers with the same organization. Baby boomers are usually committed to an organization, but those in generations X and Y see no reason to commit themselves to an organization they believe isn't committed to them. As much as generation X and Y employees have to offer, you shouldn't expect a tremendous amount of loyalty from them. Loyalty to them may not mean the same as it means to their parents.

How do you manage a multi-generational EMS workforce? One identified solution is to develop a cross-generational mentoring program. Younger employees you're hiring aren't going to learn your organizational culture and attitudes via an orientation manual. Instead, have baby boomers mentor newly hired generation X and Y employees. They typically enjoy sharing their experience and knowledge anyway. This partnership allows the newbies to better understand and ask questions about the expectations and cultural mindset of your EMS organization.


The goal of cross-generational management in EMS is not impossible. Baby boomers can learn to manage and motivate their younger employees. Younger employees can learn to value a baby boomer's work ethic and knowledge.

Now, more than ever, there are pronounced differences between generations. You should be fully aware of these differences to be more effective at managing your workforce. To see the complete mindset list for the class of 2013, go JEMS

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, Jems Leadership Sector

Author Thumb

Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P

is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department. He has over 35 years of fire, EMS, and rescue experience. He is also the immediate past Chair of the EMS Section for the IAFC. He can be reached at


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