Happy 40th Birthday to the first of Generation Y…

I’ve long been a big fan of using every-day analogies to try and wrap normal context around business challenges that we’re all head-down trying to solve. My favourite one last week came courtesy of an HBR article trying to make sense of future workforce planning.

“Assembling a talented workforce is very much like making scotch—unless you cellar something today, it will be very hard to have something worth drinking seven years from now. The best companies work hard to match their hiring and talent development strategies with their future workforce needs.”*

To be fair, I don’t make (or even like) scotch, but the point translates and distils the thinking nicely (no pun intended). Future talent planning is a diligent, long-term strategy, just like any other. There isn’t a quick fix. You simply have to invest the time and resources today, for what you want to reap tomorrow (or seven years from now in this case). 

This Summer brought with it the imminent arrival of Generation Z into the mainstream workforce. These “digital natives” (generally recognised as those born 1996 onwards) are now graduating from universities the world over and are very much ready for action. But what does that mean for those of us recruiting new grads? It means brace yourself. We’re entering unchartered recruitment territory, and guess what, many (probably most) of us don’t actually speak the new language on the street. And to make matters infinitely worse, we’ll soon be in the minority.

According to Metlife and Nielsen Media Research, Generation Y started as early as 1977 (as a 1978 baby, I like this definition the best. It helps me feel reasonably in touch with the millennial gang). It also means the very first Gen-Y-ers (i.e. my high-school mates) all start to celebrate their 40th birthdays over the coming 12 months. As a completely random guess (based on the highly accurate, analytics demographics of my social circle) I doubt more than 10% of us actually speak “digital”, and even less of us are fluent. 

What does all this mean? In short, it means if you can’t speak it you’d better be hiring people who can. This new wave of Gen Z graduates should be embraced by all of us ageing Gen Y folk (and dare I say the Gen Xers) who simply weren’t born in the right decade for the new linguistics that tomorrow’s (and today’s!) business demands. 

Ensuring your business is well-positioned to attract, develop and retain, strong graduates is something that HR strategists have cogitated since time began (or at least since global Shared Services workforce planning began). But this next wave of youngsters is a bit special. We all need think hard, and now, about our strategy to harness this upcoming tsunami of Gen-Z talent, and crucially before our competitors do.  

To make matters infinitely tougher. Trying to second-guess their actual whereabouts isn’t as easy as it once was either. Take a look at the numbers in our recent visual analytics report “A deep-dive into the Global Shared Services Landscape 2017” to see for yourself how unpredictable this new playing field is. 

Finding the new Gen Z players isn’t as easy as you might think. Did you know that Beijing will produce more HR graduates this year than any of the other top 50 Shared Services city globally? Or that Moscow and Manila also feature in the top 5 cities for fresh HR graduate availability? Food for thought if you’re currently mapping out the structure of your HR Shared Services footprint globally.

As Lee Lacocca once famously said “I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way”. If you ask me he was spot on. Speaking for myself, have no clue how to speak digital and despite my best endeavours to learn, the youth of today will always be 10 steps ahead and good for them. I intend to surround myself with them, shut up and learn what I can. 

Those of them lucky enough to be born in the right part of the world had tablets and passwords at primary school. We all had pencils and rubbers (erasers for my American friends…). The smartest strategy for the rest of us is to find these Gen Z fast, attract them, hire them and figure out a way to retain them. We can worry about not speaking their language later. The most important thing is that they can!

Oh, and Happy 40th Birthday to the Class of ‘94. You’re only as old as you feel. And apparently 50 is the new 40 anyway...



* “How leading companies build the workforces they need to stay ahead” Michael Mankins, Harvard Business Review, Sept 6th 2017

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