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Close Encounters of the New Workforce

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ILab Notes
Three things companies must consider adapting in order to embrace the next generations of the labour force.

Note from our editor: 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said that when thinking about the future, most people focus on guessing what will change in order to innovate. His approach is the opposite: focus on what will not change, and innovate around it. Amazon knows that not matter what, twenty years from now consumers will still want to pay as little as they can for an article, and to get it as fast as possible. His job is to simply make sure that innovation from his company makes this desire possible. This summer, we publish a series of articles written by the future generation, two interns, Diego (19) and Marc (17), who helped us innovate for their peers. Their desires, wants and needs are exactly the ones we had when we were their age - those do not change. Innovation to fulfill them - for example, a phone line in your room in the 80s or a mobile today, enable the unchangeable teenage need to be hyper-social with their friends.

In the first two articles of this series, Diego, who is midway through university, writes about what you need to do to attract and retain his generation to your company. From the physical space to the definition of what an employee is, you need to think differently to deal with the new workforce about to knock at your doorstep. Marc opens your eyes to the fact that 17-year-olds are post-millennials, just to add to your to-dos in case you're still catching up on learning how to deal with millennials. He writes about three principles of design you need to pay attention to if you want his generation to pay attention to you.

Enjoy what this amazing generation of mindful thinkers has to teach you.

Diego & Marc, june 2017.
Technology has advanced more in the last 30 years than the last two thousand…
Niels Bohr

 

By: Diego Martinez, diegom@ilab.dk

One way or another, we’ve all heard the saying about technology's accelerating pace. It is especially relevant to us now in 2017. There isn’t much to question in terms of analysing the impact that technological advances have had on design, communication, societal mechanisms, personal lifestyles and cultural tendencies in the last thirty years. The question is whether or not companies have been following and adapting these trends that affect the workforce, and whether or not they are ready to evolve according to the standards and expectations of my generation, which is about to enter the workforce.

Although advances in tech have enabled businesses to reach great heights in terms of communication and efficiency, the general apparatus of the workplace seems painfully static, which, in turn, makes it largely unattractive in the eyes of the forthcoming labour force. I can speak for the general crowd of college students when I say that no one really has the answer when it comes to asking ourselves how exactly we will enter the workforce, especially because the majority of company jobs are simply not compatible with our technical contemporary mindset.

We are living in a digital era where society is exponentially evolving itself through technology and innovation at a rate in which organizations don’t seem to be adapting to. Companies shouldn’t only be asking what the new cohorts of employable youth can bring to their business but rather how their firms can adapt their organisational cultures and structures in order to employ and retain us in the near future.

Make it inviting for us!

Here are three things that executives and managers should be considering today that will help them meet the incoming waves of fresh digital-era youth: 

1. Structure the workplace around the new ways of working and collaborating

Most companies are still stuck trying to figure out how to cater to millennials…  and most have missed that window by an embarrassingly large margin. Any organization, small or large, who wishes to conserve good health in the decades to come must recognize that they are not only going to have to prepare themselves for the post-millennial mindset, but must make it a habit to adapt themselves to their employable labour market, year by year, just as exponentially as the youth evolve.

Today we find ourselves interacting in an almost exotic condition in which the employable is an alien to his or her employer. To put it in simple terms: we are just too different. You may think that's not new but we were educated in a radically different way from any generation before us. One of the more immediate dimensions of this gap between us, which managers need to seriously consider, is the workplace. It goes down to everything from the smallest details such as space floor plan and environmental workplace nuances, all the way up to corporate cultural norms.

A good example of a bad way to approach us is to expect that we will seamlessly adopt the business casual, cubicle, 9-5 hierarchical structure. We consider the idea that work processes have to be strictly uniformed in order to function outdated and completely out of touch with current reality. Progress is not, and never will be, birthed from the fixture of normality. Any good manager would know that flexibility builds comfort and thus builds confidence. That’s why graduates are attracted to the workplaces that companies like Google and AirBnB offer - and that’s why those companies are doing so well. No, you can’t just put a couch in the office and sell yourself as an innovator. It’s about transforming your workspace from a place that demands mechanic undertaking to an entity that inspires ideas and creates the communal energy we need to thrive.

The great majority of companies brand themselves as free flowing and creative organizations when the reality is that the spirit of their physical space feels more like the reception at a county jail. The worst part is that most managers and employees don’t realize the extent to which simple angular changes in attitudes and fine-tunings in workplace norms could completely change their work experience. The incoming youth have completely different perspectives in regards to what it means to be comfortable at work and what it means to collaborate and to network within a physical space. For companies catching up with already outdated ways of organizing their workspace, it will be difficult to break through and accept the idea that their workplace requires radical innovation to meet us there.

2. Re-design the nature of your relationship with us as employees

The current state of affairs between the new streams of employable youth and the premise of social corporate norms consists of an ever expanding gap between what the new generations want to get out of their experience in the workforce and what industrial-mindset organizations can offer. Giants like Google, Facebook and Apple are not only leading and constantly innovating the socio-technical realm, they are crafting and expanding new horizons of the workplace.

The more technology and social platforms advance the more we realize we aren’t workers, we are learners. Take a look at Luca Todesco, the 19 year hacker who was hand picked by Apple to help them find and fix bugs and recently made Forbes “Europe’s 30 Under 30” list. Or look at Pewdiepie, the Swedish Youtuber who went from posting game commentary videos to being the most watched channel in Youtube history to working for Disney. These are just two examples of seemingly infinite new ways in which business and the new socially networked youth can come to meet and exploit each other's skill sets. Ten years ago it would have sounded absurd to say that the future of employability would come to depend not solely on one’s degree of education and experience but on one’s degree of innovative socio-technical capabilities and one’s ability to adapt quickly.

What is the business world destined to look like when most newborns know how to navigate an iPad and find their favorite movies before they even learn how to speak? Managers have to recognize that the people who will enter the workforce in 5, 10 and even 20 years will have been raised in an environment which will have brought them up to have extensive group networking and project-based collaborative learning skills. The social media information driven generations to come will redefine not only the relationships between co-workers but the whole concept of employment hierarchy. Simply being a ‘worker’ or a smaller part of a larger machine is slowly but surely expiring, as new waves of youth continue to innovate on how to interact and make a living in the digital era.

3. Consider the future impact of today’s digital era

It’s not hard to see that as society progresses we move further away from the well established individualistic national system and towards the collective global community. The steady exponential development of socio-technical tools in recent time has brought with it a complete reconstruction of what it means to educate, interact and work. 

The idea of what a “generation” is has been completely reconceptualised. Generations are no longer measured in comfortably timed intervals or in artistic/political crusades. Generations are measured in iPhone releases and social media trends. I’m not kidding. One of the larger ripple effects of this Digital Era phenomenon is that of youth social consciousness. Not only do we as the new youths become exponentially more connected, we are becoming exponentially more concerned and unsatisfied, and more importantly, social media gives us the platform to do something about it - in real time. 

It is quite plausible that in five years the incoming workforce may not even consider certain companies or jobs if they don’t feel that the ability to influence and act upon their social, environmental and political concerns is a presupposed entailment of their career development. Not only will we redefine business within society but we will also undoubtedly change the nature of business within business. We love to collaborate and mix things that have never been mixed. Whether it be art with sustainability or music with fashion, there never seems to be a limit to what we will blend and turn into a trend and subsequently turn into a market. The point is that there are no boundaries to where we should allow our creative aspirations to take us - there may even be a point in time, when we take over the leadership of your organizations, when competitors turn into collaborators and industries behave more like think tanks for approaching social problems.

It’s hard to grasp the radical transformation that the Digital Era will continue to bring about. The only thing that is clear is that with every year that comes and goes the youth and the older generations look more like aliens to each other than the counterparts they should be if they want to function well together in the workforce. As a 20-year-old I can see how adults underestimate not only the extent to which we are different, but more importantly the exponential rate of change, which for us is the norm.

My plea to the people who will be in charge of employing us in the near future is to see us as an opportunity to radically innovate. Innovation, by the way, can no longer be seen as a discipline; it’s a pillar of our social being, so let us bring you our version of what it means to work and collaborate. Be ready to accept us as the future of the business world, and to embrace this extremely bizarre, unprecedented and necessary digital-era relationship we will undoubtedly come to form.

 

Photo courtesy of friend of Innovation Lab and photographer Christopher Michel (http://www.christophermichel.com)