As technology providers and enterprises study Generation Y and its appetite for advanced technology, CIOs would be well advised to evaluate technologies on their merits, rather than trying to second guess what this future generation of employees will or won't demand, writes Adam Jura, senior analyst for industry research in Asia-Pacific at Ovum.
Much of Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 1995) is already in the workforce, and many of the technologies being aimed at this group are in fact generation-independent.
What is Generation Y, and what does it want?
As the technology industry looks for new, post-recession growth opportunities, attention has focused on Generation Y and the impact it may have on technology consumption and utilisation. Generation Y came of age at a time when technology - the internet, laptops, mobile phones - became pervasive; to them, these developments are routine, not revolutionary. In theory, as these technology-fluent employees and customers enter the workforce they won't be satisfied by anything less than cutting-edge technology. Both suppliers and enterprises are trying to anticipate their needs and demands.
Communications company Telstra studied Generation Y in the Australian financial services industry and concluded that cutting-edge technology is important to Generation Y and is a key factor in attracting and retaining the most talented among them.
IT services company CSC, apparently holds similar views and recently rolled out a range of initiatives geared to Generation Y, including its C3 collaboration tool, to employees in Australia.
Ovum agrees that it is important to study Generation Y's attitudes towards technology. And indeed, Australia is a good bellwether for other Western economies because of its high level of technology adoption, relatively strong education standards and similar impacts from the global financial crisis. Still, enterprises must be careful of the lessons they draw and how they apply them.
Skills shortages have shaped employer attitudes
Before the recession hit, Australia was experiencing an economic boom that led to skills shortages in many industries and enterprises. Many organisations realised that attracting and retaining talented employees was key to innovation and revenue growth. The downturn has altered the equation dramatically; shortages are - at least temporarily - a thing of the past, and recent graduates seem happy to find a job at all. Even so, many employers fear that economic recovery might make talent scarce once again.
Some organisations feel they must provide the latest laptops to attract and retain Generation Y. Others are considering giving new employees cash to buy whatever laptop they choose. Some have also felt pressure to court Generation Y by providing technological tools for collaboration, social networking, remote access and mobile communication.
Ovum believes that despite Generation Y's purported fondness for technology, in most cases it will play a relatively small role in recruiting and retention. These technologies are really generation-independent and should be evaluated on their merits, for all staff, as part of broader enterprise strategies in which Generation Y is just one element.
Factors such as remuneration, career progression, opportunities to work overseas, office location, training and education support, and general work/life balance are overarching issues, not just for Generation Y but for all staff, and will have a far greater impact on employer attractiveness.
Will Generation Y conform?
A significant portion of Generation Y is already in the workforce, and there has been no reluctance to accept jobs and no mass exodus from jobs due to not having the favoured technology. The average tenure of Generation Y employees may be shorter than that of older staff, but employer-provided technologies are probably less to blame than the desire to find enjoyable, meaningful work.
In other words, there are many issues besides technology that influence the work lives and preferences of Generation Y employees. Consequently, Ovum advises caution in investing in technologies for their sake, as so far their attitudes have not proved much different to those of older workers. Generation Y may be keen on advanced technology, but this doesn't seem to be a deciding factor in where they work or how long they stay.