It’s time to start listening to each other

Dairy farmers are often advised that listening to their cows is a valuable management tool. Working with dairy youth programs, I remind myself of the same logic when it comes to kids, parents and volunteers. If I hope to plan programs that are progressive and useful, time should be set aside to listen to the stakeholders.

To catch up on current trends, I decided to do some research about generations, their characteristics and how to come up with educational methods that are suited for their needs. This yielded some very interesting and valuable information and I would like to share some of it with you.

Through the years

Below is a brief description of the generations that I found on Wikipedia. However, I have focused most on the characteristics of the three more current generations.

The Greatest Generation (born from 1901-1924): These were the veterans of World War II and they truly believed in doing the right thing. They are also credited with rebuilding our nation after the war.

The Silent Generation (born from 1925-1942): They worked hard and sought to humanize the world and make it a safer place for their children. They found role models in those from the Greatest Generation and raised the baby boomers.

Baby Boomers (born from 1943-1960): Originally, there were about 76 million in this generation. Boomers found that rock ‘n’ roll music was an expression of their identity. The Beatles and transistor radios were popular. Political and social unrest was the norm. It was the era of Vietnam, the women’s movement, and more liberal ideas were freely expressed. A sense of individualism prevailed.

Generation X (born from 1965-1981): Also called the “baby bust” generation because of the small number of births, these kids grew up in a time of divorce, fractured families and economic strain. They often rejected the habits and values of their parents and are considered self-centered and self-reliant.

Concerned about the problems left to them because of their baby boomer parents, company loyalty was not the norm, but X’ers are committed to work and accepting of multicultural settings. Because of their smaller numbers, they are also referred to as the forgotten generation. However, they are entrusted to leading Millenials, which can result in conflict.

Generation Y, also called The Millenials (born 1982-2001): There are about 75 million of these and the oldest ones are just now entering the workplace. Their parents are baby boomers and they are the younger siblings of Generation X’ers. They grew up with fathers involved and they are the most “hovered over” generation in our country because of parental supervision and advocacy.

Because of this nurturing and the high expectations of their parents, they are self confident, value feedback, team oriented and yet often closer to their peers than to parents or grandparents. Multitasking is second nature to them, but they value guidance and a less formal workplace.

Somewhat impatient, they love a challenge and are service oriented. Their world has always included a computer and information is just a click away. With a more global perspective, they are diverse and optimistic.

Unlock it

All of the above provides a key to unlocking the potential of another generation. The dairy business is constantly evolving and how will we secure the interest of youth? What will inspire and motivate them to find a niche within the industry?

As surely as Ohio’s extension educators have sought to identify success in the 15 Measures of Dairy Farm Competitiveness, we must identify motivations that will lead youth to become passionate about not just cows, but the business of cows.

Baby boomers, the independent Generation X’ers and the up and coming Millenials must find a way to all “play in the same sand box.”

Asking the essential questions of what will and will not motivate each, how to blend their differences and capitalize on their common strengths and then market it in a package that will be appealing is the proverbial challenge. I still feel that enthusiasm is the least costly and the most beneficial. That alone can empower another generation as they step into new roles.

Focus on youth

The American Dairy Association has a coined a new program as the “people behind the product” when they refer to dairy products. We also should have an allegiance to youth as a “product” and involving them in the dynamics of the industry.

Are we listening? Your answer, of course, might depend on the generation that you belong to. The sum total of our experiences, ideas, and values shared by all generations makes for a melting pot of 4-H dairy programs and priorities. If we target our mentoring styles to bring out the strengths, progress is achieved. The journey to this goal is what causes so many Ohio diary folks to volunteer their time discovering generational differences and similarities. Whatever their age, they are the leaders who generously give of their time and resources.

If you are interested in 4-H dairy programming for 2009, there is an advisory meeting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. For information or to register, contact this baby boomer at ayars.5@osu.edu.

About the Author

Bonnie Ayers is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. More Stories by Bonnie Ayers

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