Leading the Connected Generation

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3rd February 2015
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Leading the Connected Generation

In 2014, the European Institute for Industrial Leadership (EIIL) completed an investigation into managing young technology graduates from the so-called ‘Connected Generation’. The study was sponsored by manufacturing companies from the Process Industry.

The problem was that recruitment and retention of young graduates was becoming problematic.  In addition, current managers in these industries did not ‘understand’ their junior staff who, for their part, did not respond effectively to career development programmes. Some companies saw it as a critical issue because their business models depended on maintaining highly skilled professionals often needing over 10-15 years of experience. In a series of 4 conferences held across Europe, over 120 senior industrialists, academics and young graduates debated how to attract, develop and motivate the “Connected Generation”.  The aim was to identify the key issues involved and understand any best practices that could be shared.

Our main finding is that we are approaching a tipping point from the combination of three trends – the exponential increase in computing power, connectivity to the Internet and the miniaturisation of sensors. Moore’s Law predicts the doubling of computer power every 18-24 months but, more importantly, we are now close to a point when readily available computers will have the same processing power as the human brain. The availability of such cheap computing power, with sensors and connectivity, will drive a new ‘industrial revolution’.

Increasingly, powerful and cheap computers will perform tasks currently done by many entry level graduates and experienced professionals. So, while many of our conference participants were worried about the lack of talented graduates entering Industry, it seems that the real issue is that companies are working on the elimination of professional roles and their replacement by increasingly powerful technology. This leap forward in the capability of technology can be seen everywhere but the extent of the future impact is, we think, largely underestimated.  Most participants could not imagine that the power and costs of using the technology are changing exponentially. As such, few organisations are considering this in the design of their structures and career developments plans.

Few students are considering the trend when choosing their careers.  In reality, we expect disruption, as the impacts of these trends are arriving faster than most social, educational and work structures can evolve. An obvious example is the booking of travel, where the best algorithms have almost eliminated travel agents and a few specialised companies dominate the Internet.  It is almost pointless to train new travel agents. The same trend can be seen in many areas of industry where expertise can be collected and programmed.  Throw in fast, mobile connectivity and advanced miniaturised sensors and even tasks like driving a car can be affordably automated within one generation.  Where will it stop?

The nature of expertise and employment within companies will change.  The likely outcome is that companies will start outsourcing many of their internal functions which previously they held to be ‘core’. This will, of course, drive the creation of new industries but will also have unwelcome social impacts.  In particular, we expect the concentration of expertise and, therefore, wealth into relatively few service providers. This will happen because accessibility of the services via the internet will be global. The ones using the best experts will write the best algorithms and competition will be limited by access to those few experts.  It will be a classical Internet business model with a ‘Winner Takes All’ scenario. We think that, growing up in this revolution, the Connected Generation will find fewer and fewer opportunities in traditional industries as entry level roles are automated.  At the same time the Education System encourages the training of more and more graduates.

Many companies may welcome this excess of supply, but they are also less likely to find candidates with the experience profiles required for this new, complicated and rapidly changing world.  They will need to identify the best and then strive to keep them.

In the middle of this is the Connected Generation with a unique set of talents that come from their adept use of the internet and mobile technologies.  They are used to ‘the best content’ via the Internet.  They can rapidly collect data and prior art, leaving more time for cognitive analysis.  They have seen the fate of ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Gen Xs’ and ‘Ys’ and have modified their own expectations wanting more control of their own careers.  Gen Cs expect rewarding and multiple career opportunities with multiple employers.

On the other hand, Gen C is probably less comfortable using inter-personal social skills, accepting responsibilities and working in isolation.  They work in networks rather than hierarchies and tend to underestimate the significance of building experience and the time required to become effective at managing. They prefer continuous, timely feedback. In short, Generation C can be difficult to manage.

Companies will have no choice but to adopt technology and find the best recruits they can. However, they should change their approach for Gen C because they will need the ‘best of the best’ talent to prosper. Before recruiting, companies should fundamentally review their corporate competences in the knowledge that some will be automated and outsourced. To recruit the best of the best, companies need to be ‘cool’ when recruiting Gen C.  They should identify inspirational role models and be open about their organisation’s values to be appealing as an employer.  They should avoid excessively bureaucratic and anonymous recruitment processes with a poor website. They should offer varied careers rather than ‘structured career paths’.  Recruitment campaigns should focus on targeted groups and they should work with educational institutions to develop pre-work education and training.

Retaining Gen C will be an increasing challenge unless companies embrace the balance of skills offered by Gen Cs and integrate them into their current teams.  Companies should use modern IT platforms and Social

Media tools that promote collaboration and retain corporate knowledge.  They should foster networks rather than hierarchies. They should educate senior managers in the characteristics of Gen C, and train Gen C to efficiently and respectfully extract information from managers with ‘bi-directional coaching’ where managers and Gen C can exchange views.  ‘Train to retain’ will help companies hang onto their best recruits.

For today’s graduates, the rate of change in the world of work will result in a very different future to the one most of us are expecting.  A graduate would be wise to choose a career that no computer would aspire to.

Denis Hicks

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