THOUSANDS of young people are deciding to skip university and plunge straight into the world of work, while the job market has been flooded with recent graduates desperate for their first job to start paying off those massive tuition fees. As an employer, you might think that this is fantastic news. Cheap, keen people are all over the place, ravening to come and work for you.
But wait on a minute. These people are members of Generation Y – those born in the 80s and 90s – and they come with strings attached. According to a recent survey by recruitment consultant Badenoch & Clark, 32.2 per cent of 16-24-year-olds said that they refuse to believe what their employer tells them.
They are not the easiest to deal with, says Katie Best, senior lecturer at BPP business school. She has researched Generation Y and she says that there is a distinct impression among employers that they are “hard to manage, needy, demanding and want everything the second they ask for it. They aren’t willing to wait at the back of the queue.”
So, are they a bunch of stroppy oiks who are best avoided? Not at all. As Best says: “They have a unique skill-set. They are the Windows generation, they are unsurpassed at multi-tasking, they are used to having five or six things on the go at once. They know how to use the systems that make a company more effective and efficient, they are good at working out how new software works.” This can directly improve your business. “There is something to be said for getting them to work together with senior managers so that the senior people can learn from them – it’s a sort of reverse training,” she says.
Technology is the most obvious area where Generation Y excels. These are the so-called “digital natives”, who have always known mobile phones, the internet and social networking. Neil Owen, of City recruiter Robert Half, says: “They have grown up using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and they have always used IT all the way through their education.” But although this is important, it is perhaps not the biggest skill they have. Owen says that they also bring “openness to new ideas and enthusiasm.” It is this enthusiasm, perhaps, which is misinterpreted as bolshiness. “They want to be engaged in their work, there needs to be a higher-level meaning, they want to be included in decision-making; employers need to understand that.”
Guy Emmerson, associate director of Badenoch & Clark says: “They’re potentially more demanding than people of their age would have been previously.” What they want, though, is not necessarily money, but to be respected. “They want to be involved in decisions. They think they can add something to the business more quickly.”
Emmerson adds that members of Generation Y have a strong entrepreneurial feel. They have grown up in the era of start-ups like Google and Facebook, not to mention Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice: they think that business is about using your talents, not serving time. “They can bring change to companies,” he says. “They want to have responsibility, and that works well with what is happening now: the market is much more fluid, and it’s all about businesses generating new ideas. Loyalty is not a big thing with them, they move on if you can’t deliver, and so you have to be dynamic in terms of what you can offer.”
So if you want to recruit them, how do you appeal to Generation Y-ers? These are savvy people and won’t just go and work for a company that doesn’t offer them what they need. But lots of firms rely on cheap, talented people. “This is a problem for organisations, and the successful ones will be the ones that can attract them,” says Best. There might be no alternative but to give them what they want. She points out that London law firm Simmons & Simmons is running an MBA for its young solicitors, encouraging them to get involved in complex issues from the start of their careers. Not everybody can do this, but managers should be aware of just how keen the younger generation is.
Those wanting to attract Generation Y will also have to make sure that the image they are projecting is the right sort, too. Tech-savvy youngsters will look a potential employer up, check out its LinkedIn and Facebook presence, not to mention its own website.
Corporate and Social Responsibility and green credentials are also important – youngsters brought up on Google’s “don’t be evil” slogan are keen on firms that promise to change the world. That might make middle-aged grey-heads wrinkle their noses, but according to the new generation of talented, savvy workers, that’s your problem, not theirs.