Today’s decision makers don’t understand tomorrow’s employees

Only yesterday I found myself on the “Digitising Europe“ Summit in-between CEOs and managers of companies like Huawei, Intel and IBM among others, politicians, journalists and decision makers from the public sector. The Vodafone Foundation had organised the event and the ambitious goal was to debate about opportunities in digital business for the future generation – an important topic considering the ongoing economic crisis and the high youth unemployment across the continent. Without any doubt, the digital sector will be growing in the future and offers therefore promising perspectives that have been neglected in the EU, while the USA and East Asian countries focus on innovation in this area.

Surprisingly, Chancellor Angela Merkel held a keynote in the beginning of the event, although only last year she had described the internet as “Neuland” – uncharted land. Nevertheless, she had learned her speech by heart and it really seemed as if she understood what she was talking about. Afterwards more keynotes, presentations and “vision talks” followed – a simple B2B-network-meeting, it seemed.

Disconnected and far from the reality

Although it was clear that in spite of the topic about challenges and chances for the young generation, the focus would be mainly on solutions offered by companies than on a real reflection of today’s difficulties, it was still surprising how very little today’s decision makers understand about the generation between 18 and 35.

It seemed as if some of the new entrepreneurs and business people had only read superficial articles about “Generation Y”, now thinking they know the whole picture, but instead, they believe in myths and with this discrepancy it is not surprising that the matching between job seekers and companies does not function properly.

Myth 1: it’s all about work-life-balance. Furthermore, according to some of the speakers, the young generation demands flexible working hours, telework and a fulfilling job. On a continent where millions of young people experienced long-term unemployment, it is rather absurd to believe that reshaping jobs and work life towards innovative and sophisticated models could solve the problem. Especially people who are simply broke or never had the chance to get proper education, would get every job they can – the work-life-balance-tale often applies to the ones who are already living in better conditions. Moreover, some people simply still like the classic 9-5-order in their everyday life since it is providing a stable framework.

Myth 2: Mobility is alright for everyone. Some of the ladies and gentlemen in favourable positions think that we grew accustomed to the idea of job uncertainty and mobility. Alright, even if many know that it might be a necessity to move to other countries, not everyone embraces the idea. Some prefer having a family and stability, others simply don’t want to change the country they live in. In the study about Europe’s young generation on their opportunities in a digitised world, which was presented by the Vodafone Foundation, the citizens of countries with a rather stable economic performance (Germany and the UK) less than one third plans on going abroad for work, while in the crisis countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy more than half of the young people consider going abroad as a chance for career opportunities.

Myth 3: The young generation lacks skills. It is enough to be qualified to find a good job – well, actually not. If infrastructure and jobs are simply lacking, millions of university graduates will continue to stay unemployed, mobility then becomes the last resort.
Admittedly, except the ones who explicitly chose to pursue a career in the IT sector, most of us don’t know anything about codes and programming. While the companies are unsatisfied with the insufficient amount of digitally qualified people leaving job vacancies open for a long period of time, it seems as if it has become a secret that the current young generation is shaped by the actions of the older one – education is still not adjusted regarding IT skills and additional training are expensive. If skilled labour force is desired, there must be realistic chances to catch up.

Myth 4: Still talking about the Bologna reform?! Human mobility sounds like an asset in terms of access to good jobs. The problem is that the reality is a little more complicated – Bologna didn’t lead to the expected comparability of university education, like some of those who have never attended a single day of higher education after the Bologna reform still believe. Although there is a common grading system, content, quality and methods still differ from country to country. Even if you decide to move to another country, your profile therefore can be missing particular requested knowledge.

Talk with young people, instead about them

Unfortunately, during this event the number of young participants younger than 30 or 35 years was very low. On the panels, mainly men with decades of experience who had a stable job were talking about what should be done for companies to be profitable and create growth. Assuming that the idea of personal freedom to decide which career a person chooses will be rejected and everyone agrees that the decision about jobs will be made only based on the demand of the companies, nothing will change, if the target group can’t be reached.

Alternately, as Prof. M. Osborne (University of Oxford) suggested, creativity and social intelligence – two key soft skills in the labour force – cannot be replaced by digital programs and should be therefore valued and recognized more by employers. This could avoid the tendency that currently two third of the young people regret the decision of their first job and would like to leave within the first year of employment.

Photo:; User: Daniela Vladimirova

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