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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 March 2019

Millennials must adapt to our changing world

Michael Lambert says it may be wrong to see millennials as the digital natives who are key to today's workforce
Millennials have been brought up by today’s helicopter parents to believe that they are special, that they can have everything they want. Getty Images
Millennials have been brought up by today’s helicopter parents to believe that they are special, that they can have everything they want. Getty Images

Perhaps unfairly, millennials – the generation of young people born after 1984 – have been branded the enfants terribles of the 21st century.

In a recent interview, the motivational writer and speaker Simon Sinek, author of the modern leadership classic Start with Why, called them entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused and lazy, not to mention that today’s leaders find them tough to manage. And yet they are a key recruitment demographic for top companies seeking to stay relevant, develop and branch out into ever more profitable unchartered territory. Before we consider how we can fulfil these millennials and make use of their full potential, let’s follow Sinek’s advice and start with why we need them.

Millennials have been brought up by today’s helicopter parents to believe that they are special, that they can have everything they want. So these youngsters turn up to workplaces expecting “beanbags and free food”, a metaphor for a comfortable life and money for nothing. When they do not get this, instantly, they look for a new opportunity that will provide it. Millennials see themselves as their own global commodity in high demand: they have their finger on the pulse and traditional industries need to mine them for information so they can stay afloat in the 24/7 sharing, liking, tweeting and snapchatting the world in which we all live.

And for a company chief executive, whose average age is around 50, millennials (also known as digital natives) display a fluency in the use of computers, video games, social media and mobile phones, which initially seems necessary and desirable. On closer inspection, however, the dependency of business leaders on millennials is something of a mirage.

In fact, recent research from both the United States and the United Kingdom paints a picture of millennials in need of the vision, training and advice of their elders to survive and progress.

A 2015 report from the Princeton Educational Testing Service called America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future reports that despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments compared to their peers.

It is not just in the US where millennials have been identified as lacking the right type of digital literacy to be useful to the workforce. A report by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee details exactly what is lacking and what is required.

They go so far as to say that “only urgent action from industry, schools and universities and from the Government can prevent this skills crisis from damaging our productivity and economic competitiveness”. Further research by O2, the UK telecom provider, showed that the UK needed an additional 750,000 workers with digital skills to meet rising demand from employers.

So millennials, these prolific users of social media and wearable tech, are actually far from being the saviours of the future.

In truth it is our chief executives, parents, head teachers and university vice-chancellors who will need to implement a digital strategy that will save our digital natives from themselves.

The TechUK Manifesto for Growth and Jobs 2015-2020 report indicates the pressing need for high-level specialist skills in data science, cyber security and data security as a result of high growth rates associated with key emerging technologies. Samsung recommends that universities need to be encouraged to provide “code conversion courses” to help graduates from non-computer science backgrounds to enter the tech sector. Witnesses for the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee impressed upon them schools will need to offer high quality computer science options as well as invest heavily in former ICT teachers to upskill them. They will also need to ensure that all teachers have mainstream technology and digital skills across the curriculum and not only in designated ICT classes. Regulators such as Ofsted and the KHDA need to add computing to the list of core subjects. Research by Nominet Trust shows that parents’ perceptions of digital skills significantly influence their child’s level of digital skills. To facilitate economic growth and ready their offspring for the future, parents also need to encourage children’s internet and IT use and recognise the range of key emerging technologies which will be the key employers of the future. TechUK points to seven major areas: the internet of things, wearable technologies, big data and data analytics, 5G and associated wireless technologies, robotics, autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing and building automation.

Industry is changing at a rapid rate and today’s graduates will need to upskill and adapt.

Only when educators, employers and parents club together can we provide the type of work-ready millennials which the Higher Education Funding Council for England has identified we will need. Millennials themselves will also need to recognise that far from being global commodities in high demand, they are in fact global liabilities who will require a great deal of investment by families, schools, companies and most crucially by themselves if they are to remain employable over a lifetime.

Michael Lambert is headmaster of Dubai College

Updated: January 17, 2017 04:00 AM

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