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Video: Engaging Millennial Employees in the OTR Industry

Millennials are now the largest segment of the population, and as their influence on everything continues to grow, tire companies must adapt to this new generation of workers.

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During the 2020 Off-the-Road Conference held in Indian Wells, California, near Palm Springs, this panel of young industry professionals offer their thoughts on what they think the OTR tire industry will look like in the next decade or two, and what employers and managers need to start doing today to prepare for the future.

The panel, moderated by Alex Klinge, general manager at Klinge Tyre Management Systems, includes:

  • Chris Rhoades – Sr. Product Manager, Technical Services, BKT USA, Inc.
  • JP Dowling – Director of Mining, CMC Tire
  • Eric Griffin – President, Inland Industrial Tire North, Inc.
  • Sam Kwa – OTR Technical Manager, Yokohama Tire Corp.
  • Austin Hale – Mid-Atlantic OTR Regional Sales Manager, McCarthy Tire Service

For the full panel discussion, watch the full video above. Highlights from the panel’s thoughts include:

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How can younger generations be fast-tracked to work in the OTR industry?

Kwa: “I think one of the main things that we can work on is exposure … there are people who don’t even know this industry exists. It’s pretty specialized.”

What do you do to engage the younger generation of your workforce?

Kwa: “As far as social media is concerned, it’s an integrated part in the younger generation’s lifestyle, and so we’re pretty active on all social media platforms – Instagram, Facebook, stuff where we can make an impact. I think, however, on the OTR side, the activation is minimal and I think we need to make a better effort to reach out to the younger generation.”

Do you think the importance of lifestyle with younger generations is an issue in the OTR field? Is this a barrier to getting them into the OTR workforce?

Dowling: “Absolutely. It’s hard work, especially for the service techs, and to go out there and put in those 12-hour, 15-hour days sometimes, driving included, I don’t think that’s very appealing to the younger generation that could potentially go to Google and have their meals cooked for them and take a nap.”

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Rhoads: “I do think not all millennials are created equal. All of us were younger at one time, and we all decided to work hard and show up and do that. I think it’s who you’re targeting, who you’re looking for. I’ve heard this in many different areas, but we need to hit the mining universities. The schools are putting out people who are already looking into going into the mining industry, and then just shift them toward the tire side just a little bit more.”

How must you change your communication when working with customers under 30 years old?

Griffin: “They want the information now … we use Treadstat, we make sure that he gets his Treadstat right away, with the pictures, the recommendations and everything so he has it right at his fingertips. And in return, he makes decisions fast as well.”

Rhoads: “I think whether they’re 60 years old or 25, it still goes back to respect. You know, listening to the person, finding out what their problems are and what we need to do to solve it.”

What do you do to engage the younger generation of your customers?

Rhoads: “I think [an] opportunity that all of us can take advantage of is the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, the NSSGA, they have a young leaders conference [for people under 40]. So, just like a TIA conference they will go somewhere, have speakers come in, but everybody who will be there will be plant managers and other leaders. When I was under 40 I was able to attend a couple of times, and that’s a great way to link up with other people … and kind of see what their needs and concerns are. Find people under 40 in your organization and send them to that conference.”

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What modern-day benefits can be offered to millennials to bring them into the tire business?

Hale: “With work-life balance, we definitely ran into, with some of our younger service technicians coming up, not asking them ‘what do you need? Are there certain times during the week that you need to be home at a certain time to get your kids from daycare, or go home and watch your kids because your wife has to go to work?’ Those are questions that I don’t think our industry necessarily asked in years prior.”

How do you personally cope with work-life balance?

Kwa: “The mobile phone and laptop have given us, basically, more flexibility … but also imposes on your time. You can do anything from anywhere right now. I think one of the things that you can try to do to minimize that workload is shut your phone off, or have two separate phones, one work and one personal. The other idea one of my co-workers actually suggested was to take your laptop home but don’t take your charger. That way, once it runs out of batteries you’re done for the day.”

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Do middle-aged technicians with aging bodies need a career path to become a mentor?

Hale: “That was one of the first mistakes I made, assuming that someone in that category wanted to get out of the truck. I think the [biggest question you need to ask that individual is]: ‘What do you want to do moving forward?’ Is it a sales role? Is it a training role? Is it a service manager role? Is it a shop manager role? I made the mistake of assuming that since you know the customers and they respect you that your next step is in sales. It may be that, but it just may not be right now. It might be a couple of years still.”

How do you deal with the impatience of millennials when it comes to advancement in their careers?

Griffin: “I think it’s communication: That’s the most important thing for us. You spend a lot of time making sure their opinions are heard. They do have good ideas, and we look at things from a certain way all the time, like we’ve done this this way forever and that’s how it has to be done. It can help you [see things] from a different point of view.”

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Dowling: “There’s a lot of opportunity for growth [in our company], and I think just seeing it happen in our company is probably the biggest motivating factor. People are seeing other people move to the next position and seeing how they did it and what kind of folks are moving up. I think that that’s how we’re doing it at this point.”

What tools can you use to recruit millennials?

Hale: “We’ve definitely become more involved with many of our current employees’ past educational institutions, whether it’s high school, technical school, college. Tapping into those institutions and the classes coming out of those institutions is where we need to be, whether that’s service talent we’re looking for from a technical school or sales talent from possibly college.”

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