Youth in Project Management

Our social and global obligation

One of the challenges facing the Project Management profession on a global and social scale is that we have an aging profession. Skills shortages and skills development are two phrases that are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. At one end of the scale, we have members with years of experience and skills, and these valuable skills will soon be lost to retirement. 

On the opposing end of the scale, we have very few members entering the profession, with little or no experience. Those under 35 years of age are not widely represented in our profession. We as a profession have to then ask, do we understand what this means for the future of our profession, and in turn our businesses, and what we can do to decrease this skills shortage?

Based on Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) membership data, the peak age of membership is approximately 45 years of age. There are two other peaks in the membership data, members born between 1951 and 1960, and 1971 and 1980. There are very few members (less than 500) born between 1981 and 1990.

Some further observations regarding the project management industry are as follows:

  • You do not need a degree/certificate to become a project manager
  • There are a number of pathways to becoming a project manager but there is not one clear career path
  • Much has been spoken and written about the skills gap/shortage of skilled people
  • Lack of knowledge is not the issue, lack of experience is
  • Training will provide knowledge but not necessarily the skills, the skills of project managers are gained by experience, not training

Currently, there is little or no encouragement for youth in project management to join AIPM. There is no specific Special Interest Group or forums to encourage discussion about youth in project management.

Prior to making changes to promote youth to join AIPM, we first need to analyse how younger employees are different in their approach to work and the project management profession. Younger employees approach work differently:

  • Engagement and interest is important
  • Technologically savvy
  • Unafraid to challenge the organisation establishment / norm / managers (which can be interpreted as a lack of respect)
  • Ask questions because they want to learn
  • Mutual respect is fundamental, it is earned and you get respect by leading by example and giving respect first
  • Experience in different work environments (as a result of job hopping)
  • Must be stimulated/engaged = junkies
  • The busier they are = the more productive they are
  • Challenging = “why” = because they want to understand how what they are being asked to do fits into the bigger picture

In addition to the differences above, younger project managers:

  • Have specific PM qualifications
  • PM is pursued as a discipline and a career choice
  • Training and qualifications are quite high
  • Strong knowledge base (due to changing roles)

Businesses need to encourage youth in project management by taking the following approach:

Start now – plan for the future by planning today. Take the long term view, don’t just purchase or you may perish. Think about how to grow your capabilities without having to access the market for project managers. What blend of skill development and accreditation does your organisation want?

  • Hands on practical experience
  • Formal training
  • Mentoring/Coaching
  • Developing an organization that is inclusive of everyone
  • Consider how you manage
  • Not advocating that we move younger staff into specialist roles without foundation skills and experience

Consider a 3-pronged approach to increasing knowledge:

  • On job experience
  • Mentor
  • Coach
  • Capture and share seasoned PM experience
  • Formal methodologies or training – process increases opportunities for quality outcomes
  • Management styles
  • Understand what makes the younger PM tick
  • All Talk No Action management styles won’t work
  • Pessimism and criticism will have youth Project Managers running a mile
  • Emotional Intelligence and how it exists in your organisation
  • Distinguishing star performers and place them on a career path

Our responsibility to our profession starts with the development of youth for the future projects. This is an issue both globally and locally and this presentation asks honestly – what have you done recently to encourage youth for your profession and your business.

Lisa Twyford

Lisa Twyford

At the start of my career, I learned quickly that many organisations were full of good intentions, but all too often lacking the skills and know-how to execute effectively. That’s why I founded clear decisions™ over 12 years ago. My vision was simple, I had a desire to help businesses and their people move through change projects with great success.

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