A touch screen showing multiple work applications.
By Bob Ashenbrenner | March 28, 2019

This is What "Mobile" Work Looks Like to Digital Natives

Want to recruit Millennials and Gen Z into field service, manufacturing, and other industrial sectors? Show that you appreciate their (technology-reliant) skill sets.

Millennials, who have lived their entire lives surrounded by digital technology, will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025. They have already been the largest generation in the American workforce for two years now (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Millennials are also perceived as a more demanding generation than any other (and Gen Z is expected to be even more so.) They seem to have higher expectations of their employers, and a much different perspective on what job flexibility means than their older peers. But the truth is, they aren’t much different.

Millennials are skilled and self-motivating people, and they buy into a common culture of success. They are also very tuned into how their superiors view them; I’ve learned that in my experience managing teams of 5 to 200 technical people. Specifically, they value real, true expressions of appreciation (or critique) far more than “participation” style feedback. For example, I remember sitting at a town hall meeting once at a former employer when an engineer asked the CEO, “Why do you treat us like liabilities and not assets?”

People perceive how others view them and they are not easily influenced by platitudes. Telling people that they do good work is good. Assigning them to challenging tasks shows them that you mean it. Listening to their feedback is a start. Acting on their feedback shows that you value their views. And, that is where there are some generational differences. Baby Boomers may have appreciated a monetary bonus or corner office, but millennial’s job satisfaction – and your employee retention rates – are dependent on technology. That’s because a millennial workforce is expected to be a “mobile” workforce.

Not only are millennials filling more field service, public safety, retail, manufacturing and utility jobs – which require them to be on the move all day – but most are “Digital Natives” who have been glued to mobile devices since they were teenagers or even children. Many knew how to work a tablet before they knew how to brush their own teeth. So, the use of mobile devices is a natural and expected part of their jobs.

If you want to recruit high-performing “Digital Natives” – and reinforce that they are an asset to your team – then look at the mobile “tools” you are giving them. You can’t hand new workers 3-ring binders of operational instructions and expect them to feel valued and respected. They are so accustomed to mobile devices in their life that a lack of them at work would be jarring. They need high quality devices with intuitive software to complete daily tasks more efficiently and meet your performance expectations. Anything less is a negative. And, if you are still doing things like phone or email dispatch, you are increasing the annoyance rate for your employees, who will become much more likely to leave.

However, mobile tools are not just about business metrics like productivity and cost savings, as significant as the ROI may be. They aren’t just a way to “coddle” a younger generation either. (Though I laugh at those memes, they just aren’t true.) Investing in better mobile technology is a way to show that you care about your employees, your company and even your customers. It is the key to having an engaged, involved and valued workforce. But, there’s a caveat: You must equip your workers, regardless of age or experience, with modern mobile tools that support the workflow and their working style.

Now, this does NOT mean using consumer-grade equipment. While it may seem more convenient and logical to deploy consumer tablets or handheld computers to ensure fast on-boarding with all generations, Digital Natives expect well-executed mobile tools and are more technology-agile. Consumer devices will fail fast, and frustrate them (and you) even faster, especially given today’s mobile crossover point. The IT manager at one rugged-tablet-using company showed me a busted iPad he keeps in his desk. When he issues a new rugged tablet like the Zebra L10 to new employees, they invariably ask, “Why isn’t this a consumer tablet?” He pulls out one that recently failed on the job and says, “This is why.”

So, what is the right mobile tool, for both your ROI and your recruitment and retention efforts?

Millennials are Digital Natives and will put rugged tablets, handhelds, printers and other enterprise-grade mobile devices to good use

If you want to meet the expectations of your entire workforce, including Digital Natives, near-retirees and IT, choose a mobile computer that runs your workflow software without causing undue process changes. For example, find a tablet, 2-in-1 or handheld computer that makes dispatch, service and reporting easy and intuitive. And, make sure it works where your people do: in all kinds of weather, around heavy equipment and during constant transitions between the “office”, vehicle and field. You can’t afford to give them a mobile computer that will break if a tool is dropped on it. Also, make sure the device has superior wireless connectivity, long battery life and a screen that can be read in direct sunlight. One that can be remotely managed by your IT department is best given the mobility of today’s workforce. In most cases, that “equation” yields a rugged tablet running either a professional-grade Windows® or Android™ OS. Of course, there are many other criteria you should consider when vetting any mobile device for your various jobs. (See below for more insights.)

Just remember, millennials make up 50% of the candidates for your open positions. Don’t just tell them you value them; show them – by equipping them with high performance mobile tools.

Not sure where to start with your mobile technology search? These resources will help:


Transportation and Logistics


Public Safety



Field Operations, Manufacturing, Public Sector, Warehouse and Distribution, Transportation and Logistics, Retail, Healthcare, Hospitality,
Bob Ashenbrenner
Bob Ashenbrenner

Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC, under the direction of Bob Ashenbrenner, works with Zebra Technologies to develop future-proof mobility solutions for customers across multiple field service and industrial sectors. As an industry consultant, Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC, is focused on optimizing rugged tablet-based solutions for mobile workers of all kinds, including utility and public safety professionals. Ashenbrenner is particularly committed to helping customers identify mobile devices that survive a tough work day, run all the software and tools needed today, and will remain flexible and scalable to adapt to evolving technology applications as business needs dictate.

Ashenbrenner has more than 25 years of computer engineering and engineering management experience, with 18 of those specific to mobility and the field requirements that enable real work to happen. He was previously a Solutions Architect with Xplore Technologies and Motion Computing for 13 years. In that role, Ashenbrenner led the development of a suite of rugged mobile tablet computer, services and software, with an emphasis on supporting the whole mobile work environment.

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