Changing Workforce Demographics: Making the Most of the New Generation

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August 2010
In This Issue:

The better we understand how to make use of the unique talents of this up-and-coming generation, the more innovation and creativity we can expect to unlock and take advantage of as we build successful business relationships with its members."

— Gabriele Piccoli, Editor

The generation entering today's workforce is more "connected" and technologically savvy than any generation that has come before it. Technology shapes and informs the relationships of this particular generation with those around them to an unprecedented degree. It's also a driving force behind their creative and collaborative processes. Those of you (or shall I say us) hoping to successfully integrate members of this generation into your organization must have a vast understanding not only of new technologies as they emerge but also of the members of Gen Y (aka Net-Geners) -- today's current generation of technology users with whom we will be increasingly interacting. This is perhaps most prevalent in the IT shop, where technology has always attracted some of the most challenge-seeking employees and where innovation is critical.

As these Gen-Yers enter the workforce in ever growing numbers in the next decade, becoming our employees (and sometimes our managers!), it behooves us to gain a deeper understanding of how they tick, particularly in relation to the technology that keeps our businesses running. The better we understand how to make use of the unique talents of this up-and-coming generation, the more innovation and creativity we can expect to unlock and take advantage of as we build successful business relationships with its members. Furthermore, and perhaps more immediate, the more we understand this new generation, the more successful we will be in both recruiting and retaining them as effective contributing members of our organizations.

In this issue of Cutter Benchmark Review, we do our part in unlocking the mystery of Gen-Yers/Net-Geners. We examine the powerful trend toward further integration of technology into everyday productivity and the creative processes of this highly innovative generation. Plus, we discuss ways in which we can successfully integrate these individuals into our organizations to the benefit of all involved.

Our academic contributor this month is Robert Mason, Cutter Fellow of our Innovation & Enterprise Agility practice and Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the Information School of the University of Washington. With his current research focusing on the philosophy and ethics of technology management and the cultural aspects of knowledge management, Bob is the perfect person to provide us with insight into the next generation of technology users and how to best understand the inevitable challenges and rewards of changing workforce demographics. His background in operating two consulting companies and working in the industry prior to becoming a full-time academic makes him uniquely able to provide us with a valuable perspective on one of the perpetual challenges for managers: integrating generations with different strengths and weaknesses into a cohesive and productive workforce.

Complementing Bob's view from the practice side is Laura Schildkraut. Laura's experience as founder of Onboarding Gen Y, a firm that promotes tapping into the excellence of Gen Y employees, gives her a clear perspective directly relevant to this month's topic. She has tremendous in-the-trenches experience, preparing new-to-market Gen Y employees to successfully enter the workplace, as well as helping guide organizations to effectively hire, welcome, retain, and enable them to exceed expectations. In addition, prior to launching Onboarding Gen Y, Laura spent 11 years as a faculty member at the University of Washington Business School. She is currently the host and executive producer of two IT television shows airing on ResearchChannel and UWTV. Laura's extensive experience makes her an invaluable resource to us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities of Gen Y's entry into the workforce.

Written in an approachable and practical style, Bob's piece provides us with a solid overview of these Gen-Yers, or his preferred term "Net-Geners," by discussing in particular how their values and behaviors are shaped by the plethora of technologies available to them. This use of technology, and the resulting access to information, differs in striking ways from previous generations. It has had some surprising results on brain chemistry and wiring and has created a distinctive set of characteristics that are part of the shared makeup of Net-Geners. Bob goes on to present an analysis of the ways in which this generation both accesses and disseminates information, and more important, discusses ways that IT shops and organizations in general can best take advantage of these traits and tap into the creativity that is an inherent part of this generation's collective personality. Particularly interesting are the examples that Bob uses to demonstrate the Net-Geners' innovative approaches to problem solving in a real-world environment, using recent business models created by members of this generation as illustrations. Bob concludes by providing us with concrete suggestions for choosing strategies that best take advantage of the Net-Geners' strengths.

Fitting right into our CBR style of providing information that is immediately implementable, Laura begins her contribution with a brief overview of the influences for Gen Y before offering true-life anecdotes of two young individuals' experiences with "traditional" employment. Unable to translate their creativity into action within existing organizational structures, the examples of how each found alternative outlets for making use of their strengths provide us with a valuable lesson in why it is so important to understand how this generation operates if we hope to successfully integrate its members into our teams. Laura then offers tangible recommendations for how to encourage Gen-Yers to innovate and succeed within existing organizations, information that is immediately valuable to IT and business professionals. Including the "whys" as well as the "hows," the insight Laura provides can help us move forward through potential challenges and into concrete solutions.

Being a college professor, I have met and interacted with my share of these young people, and I am often amazed and intrigued by their way of thinking as well as their many talents. We hope you will enjoy reading about this innovative and technology-driven generation as much as we did, and that the ideas in this issue will spur you toward further innovation of your own as you manage work teams increasingly comprised of members of the latest generation.