Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) now make up a significant proportion of the workforce as the early Generation X (born between 1960 and 1980) begin to reach retirement age, while career progression into senior and leadership roles is accelerating to suit millennials’ demand for faster recognition and promotion.
The skills shortage is continuing to hit the headlines and technical advancements are transforming how we work. It is critical that employers consider how to maximise employee skills and potential. When developing future workforces manufacturers should be asking themselves the questions:
• What makes millennials tick?
• How do they fit in with and learn from the wider team?
• How will you attract, retain and nurture the millennial generation to achieve both controlled and sustainable growth?
This is where the narrative starts to get interesting. Prejudice towards millennials is surprisingly common with many established professionals failing to recognise or understand the differences in their views. One of the most frequent frustrations aired by business leaders at our recent events centred on a perceived lack of long term commitment (so called job-hopping), and more worryingly a categorisation of the new generation of workers as entitled know-it-alls.
But is this fair and justified? Like every generation before them, the digital and technological landscape that they’ve grown up in has evolved resulting, in many cases, in behaviours and experiences very different to those of their parents. This is nothing new, but if we continue to generalise and criticise, rather than taking the time to understand the strengths and motivators of the millennial demographic, we risk hindering future business growth and development.
Millennials are often portrayed as “generation nice” with an everyone’s-a-winner mentality. This optimism stands at odds with the economic realities they face. Millennials have had to contend with entering a marketplace scarred from 9/11, the credit crunch and long-term austerity. Escalation in tuition fees and houses prices has made attaining degree/masters qualifications and home ownership unreachable for some.
This generation is riding a wave of uncertainty, with Brexit providing the cherry on the cake. With this level of insecurity, we should not be surprised that millennials move jobs more frequently. For them, a job-for-life is an urban myth, an old-fashioned notion spoken about by their grandparents. Their motivations and expectations are very different from previous generations - they do not even expect employers to offer substantial pension schemes and benefits that may entice them to stay with an employer for the long term.
With this lack of security, it is to be expected that the mindset is more attuned to instant gratification. They have grown up with technology that promotes immediacy; be it access to information, instant communication, shopping with next/same day delivery. On demand services and immediate credit agreements furnish easy access to luxuries and brands and debt is now expected rather than feared. Is this immediacy in everyday life what we see spilling over into work behaviours, with higher expectations for quick career progression, recognition and promotion?
Affinity with and use of technology is synonymous with the millennial generation. Without memory of a time before the internet was available, they are used to interacting with devices for all their needs. This access has given them a more global perspective and an ability to inform themselves, but this prevalence of digital dealings can have a negative impact on leadership and influencing skills, where face to face communication, relationship-building and listening are still critical in the workplace.
The flipside of this is that they’re highly digitally literate, picking up systems and applications intuitively and quickly. If they need information, ask Google, Siri or Alexa. If there is a problem they have not seen before, find a solution instantly through their online networks via YouTube, social media and specialist forums. Millennials are used to finding solutions quickly and with autonomy, but this can lead to a reluctance to admit that a problem is beyond them or where they may really benefit from the direct experience of others.
Key factors and findings
With industry constantly evolving to keep up with the demands of faster, better, cheaper market mentality and with the trend towards customisation and personalisation of products, it is important for us all to consider how these attributes could bring a real value to manufacturers both now and for the future, and how to get the most from and give the most to millennials:
• Embrace digital natives – First and foremost, their ability to understand, adopt and implement new technology, use digital platforms and analyse data enables them to make informed decisions. Millennials want to digitalise systems and automate tasks which can often lead to creative thinking, unconstrained by precedent. Millennial leaders can challenge and improve the accepted practices and processes in manufacturing.
• Make a job an ‘opportunity’ – Simply advertising a job and promoting yourself as a good business is not enough. Millennials want a CV full of ‘cool’ or interesting projects, and evidence that they are fast-paced achievers. As discussed at the recent events, the traditional approach of asking ‘why I should employ you?’ will have less impact than outlining the ambition of the business, and asking them to illustrate how they think they can contribute to or shape the future of the business.
• Are you social? – It is unlikely that you will find a millennial that doesn’t have a Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter account – make sure you are active on these platforms and channels otherwise you may be perceived as out of touch. What would you think if a potential employer didn’t have a website? This is probably the closest equivalent!
• Continuous development – Millennials crave new knowledge and challenges. They want to explore opportunities and learn new skills. Encouraging development will not only make their role more fulfilling but also provide an expanding skill-set which is important as 4IR continues to evolve. Whilst not the absolute answer for retention it is certainly a factor that can improve your options and chance to keep individuals longer term.
• Continue engagement – Many employers cited a two year timeframe after which millennials seek to move on to a new role. How do you ensure that you mitigate this? Engage with the employee, give them a channel to discuss their aspirations and frustrations. Think more creatively, in addition to personal and professional development, you may want to consider graduate loan pay off schemes, sabbatical leave options, flexible working or individualised rewards
• Create realistic expectations – The ‘run before you can walk’ spirit is in many ways positive, an indicator of ambition, but it is important that expectations are realistic and can be met. Businesses need to therefore be clear about what needs to be achieved before moving up the career ladder.
• Independence – It is important to not micro-manage individuals that excel when allowed to think more freely, not be stifled by traditional protocols. However, recognition of the importance of learning from the wider team, their experiences, past successes and mistakes is also crucial. Effective mentoring or buddying schemes with senior, experienced team members creates trust, team spirit and delivers the benefits of knowledge and skills transfer.
• Salary over benefits – Financial reward is key. The overarching salary is more important to millennials than general benefits they might receive. So be open and prepared to offer higher hourly rates or salaries rather than car packages or pensions.
Securing talent in the future
The old adage of hiring for attitude and training for skills is still very relevant today and we are not suggesting that businesses turn their processes and operations upside down to accommodate talented millennials. The reality is that the next generation of leaders, workers and customers are millennials themselves, so adapting or investing now may give you a competitive edge or that burst of energy you need to drive your business success.
- EEF's National Manufacturing Conference on 19 February 2019 features a workshop #GENERATIONZ to discuss how to attract the future generation of creators, innovators and makers