Millennials: Are they trained for work in the digital age?

Is your millennial workforce trained for the digital age? Randstad’s Mark Bull investigates a recent survey. 

Millennials believe gaps in their education left them unprepared for the workplace and being squeezed out by Generation Z, according to new research.

People born between 1980 and 1995 – the so-called millennial generation – already face being saddled with student debt and struggling to get their foot onto the property market and a new study reveals they also have insufficient vocational skills to cope with the rigours of modern working life.

On the other hand, this same research has found Generation Z – people born from 1996 onwards – are far more likely to have a vocational qualification which is better suited to the modern digital workplace. 

They are also likely to have greater leadership aspirations and move jobs more often to get to the top of the career ladder.

Millennials could be the lost generation

Millennials appear to be stuck between a more financially secure Generation X, who didn’t need to pay university fees and were able to get onto the property ladder before prices soared, and the digital natives of Generation Z who arguably have a much more vocational and ‘e-commercial’ mindset. 

As the curriculum has evolved to include lessons on coding and younger people generally understand the commercial potential of the internet, students today are leaving school, college or university with a much clearer idea of who they want to be and what they want to achieve. 

It’s crucial for employers to establish early on what motivated candidates so they could respond by appropriately rewarding success and building loyalty.

Meanwhile, millennials have racked-up thousands in student debt earning academic degrees that in some cases aren’t relevant to the modern workplace. Without the financial advantages of Gen X and perhaps lacking the digital nous of Gen Z, it’s no surprise people are suggesting millennials are the lost generation.

Gen Z more likely to achieve success

According to the survey, 38% of millennials feel their education hasn’t prepared them for the digital world. Just under a third of Gen Z feel the same way. In addition, 84% of Gen Z young professionals are aiming for the top position in their workplace compared with 79% of millennials.

However, Gen Z employees were more likely to job hop to achieve their ambitions than their millennial counterparts with 33% of Gen Z respondents admitting there were likely to stay less than two years in a job, compared with 26% of millennials.

This might be in part due to Gen Z being more flighty but can also be attributed to greater drive among the youngest employees.

A bleak outlook

The findings confirmed research by the Resolution Foundation that found millennials are the first generation likely to earn less than their parents over the course of their working life. People aged between 15 and 35 typically earn £8,000 less in their 20s than than those aged over 35, the report said, while the outlook for homeownership for millennials was described as ‘bleak’. 

Millennials might feel unprepared for work but it’s not all doom and gloom. Those who are tenacious and ambitious will learn and develop their skills on the job while some will use student debts or a desire to buy a home as motivation to earn more and be more ambitious.

This attitude could favour businesses as employees work harder for the same employer to prove their worth.

Gen Z employees tend to be more ambitious and therefore more inclined to change jobs regularly to achieve their ambitions. This increased staff turnover could have a detrimental effect on company productivity and businesses need to consider what they offer Gen Z staff as incentives for them to stay.

It’s crucial for employers to establish early on what motivated candidates so they could respond by appropriately rewarding success and building loyalty, which in turn would cut staff turnover and improve performance and productivity.

Employees should re-think job offers

The survey, which questioned 4,000 millennial and Gen Z workers across 10 countries, also revealed how younger employees measure success in the workplace. The younger respondents indicated promotion was the most obvious way (23%) while millennials thought respect and acknowledgement from their colleagues was (22%).

Interestingly, despite being born in a digital generation where instant messaging, email and video conferencing are the norm, 39% of people across all generations still think face-to-face communication with co-workers is best and that good communication is key to good leadership. 

Both millennials and Gen Z value flexible working above healthcare benefits (19%) while 14% of Gen Z and 15% of millennials feel training and development is the most important employee benefit they should expect.

They also want to see more technology incorporated by employers with 41% wanting increased use of social media, 27% desiring the use of wearable technology, 26% looking towards virtual reality and 20% mentioning robotics. 

While the study suggests Gen Z has adapted to the digital age better than the previous generation, it is clear the two age groups have things in common.

This is important for employers when looking at an overall strategy to increase productivity and retain younger workers because it provides insight into the attributes and benefits that are most important to those generations. 

By acknowledging the ambition of Gen Z and the experience and skills of millennials, employers can create dynamic workforces that will drive rather than break the cycle of productivity.


About the author

Mark Bull is CEO of Randstad UK and Middle East


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