Why change-hungry young generations are the key to unlocking growth

Here, Sabby Gill, executive vice president international, ‎Epicor Software, explores how the younger generation can unlock growth in your business.

The struggle to recruit skilled workers is a recurring concern for manufacturing businesses across the world. An EEF report recently revealed that three-quarters of manufacturers have struggled to recruit skilled workers in the last three years.

This industry analysis suggests that manufacturers are dealing with a lack of both quantity and quality when it comes to applicants, with not enough people applying for roles and job-seekers lacking the technical skills required to fill available vacancies. The report cautions that manufacturers’ plans to drive productivity improvements and to capitalise on Industry 4.0 could be derailed and with demand for skills set to rocket, the situation is about to spiral further.

Yet, with new generations entering the workforce perhaps there’s light at the end of the tunnel. These younger generations bring with them a fresh outlook and a desire for personal growth that, if harnessed properly, could be the injection that businesses need to succeed. However, attracting this new talent is not always easy.

Changing workplaces

Younger generations are entering the workforce at a time of technological change and economic disruption. These forces are shaping the choices they make and the experiences they seek when applying for jobs. What’s more, the career choices this generation makes now, will in turn eventually shape the global economy.

Organisations face a unique set of challenges when it comes to integrating new generations into the workforce, and balancing their needs and expectations, along with those of existing workers. For example, the so-called Baby Boomer generation, which comprises of workers born before the sixties, has very different ways of working compared to Generation X, currently aged 36-55.

Studies, such as those by The Gerontologist and The Open University have characterised Baby Boomers as motivated by position, perks and prestige, making them believe that Generation X and younger generations should, like them, conform to a culture of overwork.

Some members of these generations may be soon to retire, but they will nonetheless need to work alongside much younger generations first—including Millennials, who are currently under the age of 30 and members of Generation Z, who were born in the late nineties. These groups, in contrast to their older colleagues, grew up in an environment where diversity and the need to balance multiple tasks at once was the norm. Thus, they seek flexibility, team work, and the acceptance of their ideas.

What’s more, as these younger generations come up through the ranks, they are rapidly becoming the most dominant population in today’s workplace, bringing with them innovative ways of working, fresh ideas and challenges for their older colleagues.

Indeed, a clash in attitudes and priorities has resulted in many commentators giving younger generations a bad rap. Only recently, the CBI published a report which showed a third of companies are concerned about young people’s attitude to work, believing that many graduates and school leavers lack the mindset and skills required to thrive in the current workplace.

But are we giving young people a hard time when we should perhaps be looking at the assets they bring to a company instead?

Renewed focus on growth

As part of its global growth survey, Epicor set about trying to better understand how attitudes to business growth vary amongst different generations. Millennials and Generation Z, referred to as Gen ZY in the research, want to know that work is a place of growth and development, where they can find their purpose and be passionate about what they do.

The survey found that these generations are more ‘excited’ about the growth experienced in their company than Baby Boomers (29 per cent versus 27 per cent), and that they are also a lot more optimistic about growth trends. Three quarters (72 per cent) believed their business’s growth prospects had improved in the last 12 months, whereas just 50 per cent of Baby Boomers felt the same.

This optimism of youth can be harnessed by organisations looking to drive growth. For example, we are seeing the proliferation of creative office design, short term office leases and co-working spaces across regions around the world, as well as increases in flexibility in work schedules, work attire and human resource policies at both large and small companies.

The use of technology is also a factor, as having access to the latest tech goes a long way towards attracting the best talent, boosting morale and driving operational efficiencies. Many of these ideas and trends are refreshing and useful to growing innovative companies.

New generational challenges

Generation ZY is likely to have to confront obstacles to prosperity that their parents didn’t face. They are better educated than previous generations—but in today’s world, many, if not most, will be forced to retool and switch careers several times during their working life.

IT advancement is in many ways a double-edged sword for young people. The digital economy has enabled the creation of millions of new jobs, but artificial intelligence and robotics may soon displace many traditional manufacturing roles.

However, the good news is that many younger people are aware of these challenges and often look to the application of the latest technologies to overcome their problems. The Epicor survey found that younger generations are more likely to embrace new innovative technologies. More than half (52 per cent) see better technology as a solution to current stresses and challenges, compared to 45 per cent of Gen X, and 38 per cent Baby Boomers.

But beware of the ‘one size fits all’ mindset, because not every employee will fit the description of their generation. Mark Zuckerberg for example, who was born in 1984, is arguably too old to be classed as a Millennial but is nonetheless renowned for his capacity for being on the cutting edge of social technologies. Many Gen X and Baby Boomer employees too, are also technologically forward-thinking and willing to adapt to today’s digital world.

As the generation of digital natives makes waves in the work environment, organisations that play to these young people’s strengths will ultimately gain thriving and motivated workers, allowing them to grow in the long term.

This involves engaging with young workers on new, social and truly interactive platforms, such as using social enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools to collaborate on projects, or by using gamification methods to motivate teams and drive results. Also important is the need to utilise the latest technology for training, for efficiency, and for automating manual tasks that might otherwise leave younger generations bored. This is the future workplace. Is your business ready?

Sabby Gill is executive vice president international of ‎Epicor Software

Owen Gough

Fred Morissette

Owen Gough is a reporter for SmallBusiness.co.uk. He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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