Anyone still stuck in the industrial age will need a rapid shift in approach to attract and retain the next-generation workforce.
The global debate that followed new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's clamp-down on staff working from home colourfully highlighted the information society's new approaches to working: work happens all the time, and everywhere. It happens best on devices and applications the user wants to engage with, and it doesn't happen when workers are micromanaged and monitored too heavily. New age information workers don't like conforming to last century's 9-5 offi ce norms.
For companies looking to harness innovation and next-generation skills, accommodating this new mindset can require a major corporate culture shift. Software consultancy ThoughtWorks epitomises the new way of thinking: the company is built on a model that sees top knowledge workers around the world helping clients develop software that ensures a sustainable business, is innovative and yet also 'betters humanity'. It now has over 2 000 employees in 11 countries. Local lead consultant Zaynab H Leeya says the employees are truly passionate and committed to their work, which results in far longer working hours that don't seem long at all. "The next generation wants to make an impact on the world," she says.
"At ThoughtWorks, we do. So most of our consultants get a great deal of satisfaction from their work." Leeya says she wouldn't object to working longer than normal hours if she has to: "We do it because we want to – we want to keep our clients happy and we are passionate about contributing to the community." What does this mean for a work-life balance? Leeya says she is single, which allows her to travel, and sees her colleagues as personal friends. Her work gives her immense personal satisfaction and opportunities to work in various countries. For her colleagues who have families, the company endeavours to ensure work-life balance.
Late last year, IBM released a Global Student Study, conducted in conjunction with the 2012 IBM Global CEO Study, to assess the attitudes of the millennial generation. It surveyed more than 3 400 students from both growth markets and mature markets. The fi ndings indicated, among other things, that the next generation is heavily dependent on Internet and social channels for communication; believes openness is critical in organisations; and is very focused on corporate responsibility. IBM compared the fi ndings of the CEO Study with the Student Study, fi nding signifi cant differences in a number of areas. On the issue of changes required to meet customer expectations over the next three to fi ve years, 81% of students versus 72% of CEOs said 'improve response times to market needs'; 76% of students versus 44% of CEOs said 'increase social and environmental responsibility'; and 68% of students versus 47% of CEOs said 'increase transparency and corporate accountability'.
On communication channels, the reports found that only 56% of CEOs use Web sites and social media for customer relationships today, compared to 70% of students who believe organisations should do so. Today, CEOs believe face-to-face interaction is the most important tool in building customer relationships, while students cite social media and Web sites as being the most important tools.
A PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey of the millennial generation in late 2011 supports these fi ndings. It found, among other things, that millennials are less inclined to stay in a job for a lengthy period, with over 25% expecting to have at least six employers in their lifetime. Among those who were working, 38% were actively looking for a different role and 43% said they were open to offers. Personal development and work-life balance are what they most want from employers (with cash bonuses coming in at third place) and over 75% said access to technology made them more productive.
Meeting the needs of millennials is about a lot more than keeping staff happy – it's about improving the business bottom line. Millennials are the nextgeneration consumer body. The way millennials want to interact in the workplace is representative of the way millennials want to interact as consumers too. So remaining agile and adapting communication styles and channels is important both from a staffi ng perspective and a profi t perspective.
Edrei Schoeman, Offset & Countertrade manager at Cisco SA, says the Cisco's GTAP skills development programme, focused on candidates aged 18 to 25, has revealed some clear differences between the next-generation workforce and the 'old guard'.
"They are generally innovative self-starters, with a very entrepreneurial approach," she says. "What they can bring to the table in business is very valuable."
Dr Harold Wesso, director general of the E-Skills Institute at the Ministry of Communications, points out that the industrial era is over. "We still tend to think in terms of industrial age jobs. But times have changed," he says. "It is the era of the Internet, social media everything, and new job descriptions are emerging all the time. The way people think has changed."
Now, he says, with vast repositories of knowledge available at the click of a button, people's thinking can move to a higher level and extend to innovation, rather than just storing knowledge. Therefore, the approach to training has to change.
Keeping information workers up to date with new trends and technologies requires a more agile approach from business, and ongoing upskilling of employees to meet both technology advances and business imperatives has become the only way to stay competitive, Wesso says.