Kyle T. Webster

Up until seven years ago, Terry Quinn’s tools for estimating a job were a yellow pad and a calculator; for scheduling, a white board; and for planning, graph paper. Despite how long it took to do his work, the owner of the 50-year-old Almar Building & Remodeling, in Hanover, Mass., began to change his ways only when his then 20-something daughter Allison Guido and her husband Craig Guido came to work for the company.

“[Allison] got me into e-mail. That took awhile. Then I was able to figure out Quicken, but I didn’t know the computer that well,” Quinn says. “[She] took that over and explained it to me.”

Old Dog, New Tricks

While it might not be a formal program, “reverse apprenticeships,” a term coined by the late consultant and futurist Roger Herman, happen all the time. “The typical trouble spot for older workers,” says Joyce Gioia, now president and CEO of The Herman Group, based in Austin, Texas, “is in the computer/technology area. That’s where older workers are learning from younger workers. It’s more on-the-job and on an informal basis.”

Gioia has found that older employees are no longer as reluctant to embrace new technologies. “It’s what’s demanded of them by our changing world,” she says.

A quick LinkedIn poll by this reporter found that older workers are open to learning from younger workers in areas other than technology and see doing so as an important part of having a successful team. “The definition of a true team is that everyone learns from everyone else — regardless of age, culture, etc. I realize this might sound like EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] speak, but it’s not. It’s how we work as a team,” responded Bruce Case, president at Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Remodeling, in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

While millennials (those born in the mid-1970s to the early 2000s) are sometimes characterized as spoiled, Quinn, who is phasing out his role at Almar Building & Remodeling, recognizes that the younger generation has taught him a lot “in terms of planning for taking time off. Life is better for the 20-somethings than it was for us when we were in our 20s. All we did was work. They do more business than I ever did and they’re not wearing out their shoulders and climbing ladders. They’re doing it with their brains and not their backs.”

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.