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Analysis / Business

Brace Yourself: Gen Y Are Entering The World Of Work

New generations of end users are emerging from schools and colleges.

They have grown up around technology that is now ubiquitous. It has driven a very different lifestyle and expectation, and many of the technologies have emerged since the year 2000. They are in for a big shock. They don’t need to go the London Science Museum to see technology through the ages. They simply need to look around the company they have just joined!!!

So what is shaping their expectations?

  • Everyone has a mobile phone from the age of 10. Advances in processing power, battery life, screen resolution, available systems and low cost talk plans have made it possible to use it as the universal communicator (voice, email, Instant Messaging), a media center (music, video stored or streamed), a games machine, and a micro-computer running systems.
  • Internet access is available in most homes so consumers have become accustomed to a very rich internet experience (Web 2.0). This has set an expectation for business systems.
  • Social networking sites and MMP (massively multi-player) computer games have changed the way they interact, communicate and plaemail them or send them a message y with their peers. Their confidence and trust of the internet and the way they evaluate others they meet on the internet is very different from the traditional face to face meeting. They bare their souls, quirks, passions and fetishes on social networking sites, but they would never reveal them in a job interview.
  • Internet search (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft), Wikipedia and a plethora of website, blogs, podcasts and video sharing sites means that information is a couple of clicks away: ‘how to do something’, ‘where to go’, ‘cheapest place to buy’. It has also changed the way that they learn.
  • Every one of them seems to have little white earphones permanently inserted in their ears; even when they are working, when they need to concentrate, if they are on the phone or out in a group of friends.

Thought: Technology is only technology if it was invented after you were born

An interesting insight comes from the research from Don Tapscott’s book, grown up digital. If you grew up with a service then it is not new technology to “learn”. For Generation X the TV, phone or electricity are not technology. They just use them. So, for the iPod Generation, Generation Y, the internet and mobile social networking are not technology. The iPod generation is growing up expecting to use these services, not ‘learn or understand how they work’.

Language is a great way of seeing the change. Do you say “phone” or “mobile phone”? “Camera” or “digital camera”? In both cases the first word is redundant for Gen Y. Why would be a phone be anything than mobile or a camera be anything but digital? Do you tape or video a TV program? Do you send an email or send someone a message (FB, LinkedIn, Sype, IM, txt…)? Interestingly that word has come full circle. What is a conversation? A heated discussion over dinner, face to face!!, suggested that txting or IM between people consitituted a conversation.

Dr Paul Redmond of Liverpool University in the UK has been researching generational differences and is a fascinating and entertaining speaker. I was lucky enough to be speaking alongside him in Amsterdam at the CIONet Summit. He is compiling some sound clips with the BBC which capture each of the 4 key generations (Boomers born 1943-63, Gen X, born 1964-81, Gen Y born 1982-2001, and Millenials born 2002 onwards).

Some of his research into Gen Y in the UK is very consistent with Don Tapscott’s findings. ‘They are less likely to turn up to things; they are constantly connected and communicate differently. They value open and honest communication.’ He goes on to describe a group that is civic-minded, has little interest in a person’s race, gender or sexual orientation, is earnestly interested in values and corporate responsibility, as well as flexible working and work-life balance.

The other characteristics listed in the research by Deloitte, are ‘educated, bored by routine, success-driven, lifestyle-centred, anti-commitment, service-minded, environmental, entrepreneurial, opinionated, diverse and goal-orientated’.

But there are other changes which mean this work force is very different from their parents when they joined the world of work.

  • The entrepreneurial opportunities due to technology and highly visible role models mean that they could already have tasted commercial success well before they leave school.
  • They have a variety of working modes available. Full time employed with a number of different and very distinct careers over their working lifetime. A part-time portfolio lifestyle combining periods of travel, vocational activities or further education. Setting up and running a business – either with an aim to fund their lifestyle or make it big and get rich. This has profound implications for employers in terms of managing staff turnover and continuing training.

So the challenge of business leaders is to develop a company where Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y can happily co-exist and thrive. Hiring, motivating, learning from and connecting with each generation is critical whether you are a teacher, Director, business owner or manager.

For some time I’ve had a book idea about how to manage and motivate Gen Y written from a Boomers perspective. Maybe it is time to dust off the manuscript before GenY are so established that they are writing books about how to manage Boomers like me out of the business!

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Ian Gotts is CEO and Chairman of Nimbus Partners, an established and rapidly growing global software company, headquartered in the UK. He is a very experienced senior executive and serial entrepreneur, with a career spanning 25 years. Ian has co-authored a number of books including “Common Approach, Uncommon Results”, published in English and Chinese and in its second edition, "Why Killer Products Don't Sell" and books covering Cloud computing from the perspective of both the prospective buyer, and the software vendor. Having begun his career in 1983 as an engineer for British Rail, Ian then spent 12 years at Accenture (nee Andersen Consulting) specialising in the project management of major business critical IT projects. During this time, he spent two years as an IT Director, seconded to the Department for Social Security (DSS), with a department of over 500 and a budget responsibility of 40 million pounds.