Adapting to the millennial workforce

Published: September 28, 2015 12:05 AM

A multi-dimensional approach of engaging the millennials, investing in their skill development early on, and transforming the way organisations deal with this workforce is needed to harness India’s talent pool

By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country, with 64% of its population in the working age group. This population (aged 15-64) will rise by 12.5 crore, creating a need for 10 crore net new jobs. While we continue to focus heavily on education and acquiring college degrees—producing lakhs of graduates year after year—the National Employability Report 2014 states that employability remains a challenge, with only 18% of this pool being placed in jobs and “less than 1 out of 4 engineering graduates” being employable in the country.

India’s “demographic bulge”—lakhs and lakhs of young people who will flood its job markets through the next ten years—risks sliding into a lopsided paunch that will weigh the nation down and crimp its GDP. The problem is simple: Indians are obsessed with textbook education and white-collar dreams.

The need of the hour is a radical shift in our thinking and approach. One of the ways we can address this problem is through a collective effort by organisations, educational institutions and government education bodies on three fronts—engage millennials, invest in marketable skill development early on, and transform business to align with the new world workforce.

Engage MILLennials

Experts note that the “difference between generations is far more striking in India than elsewhere because of the country’s rapid pace of liberalisation and increasing globalisation since the 1990s.” The lifestyle of this new crop of workers is different. How are we keeping up with this changing environment, and even more importantly, are we being innovative in our approach and aligning technology to new-age recruitment and employment?

India’s demographic and economic changes provide us not only with the opportunity to make use of the demographic dividend but also to take advantage of changing demographics across the world. We are emerging as one of the youngest populations in the world which is technology-savvy and knows English. With appropriate training, this workforce will help open possibilities for India to become an even greater exporter in the services sector. In this emerging landscape, greater collaboration between industry and academia alone cannot ensure a well-trained, well-targeted workforce. In today’s networked environment, fixed knowledge stocks have decreasing value, while more fluid knowledge, specifically participation in diverse information flows that lead to the creation of new knowledge, is more important.

India has an interesting mix of millennials, baby boomers and women returning to the workforce. One common factor that links them is flexibility. For millennials, flexibility and well-being are as important as financial rewards.

Flexibility empowers them to pursue interests outside work, explore their entrepreneurial zeal, and bring deeper and diverse skillsets to the table. For baby boomers, 80 is the new 60 for retirement. Backed with their years of experience, they are healthier—owing to their well-being choices—and eager to stay longer in the workforce. They look to flexibility to accomplish this. The women workforce holds a significant share of top jobs, especially in the technology industry. Following childbirth and through the years of child rearing, they are opting for flexibility to accomplish their best at work and at home. This milieu has led to India being among the top five nations in terms of flexi worker base—currently over 13 lakh and expected to grow to 90 lakh by 2025. Flexi staffing, clearly, is the future of the Indian staffing industry.

Invest in SKILL development

The employability gap continues to be a reality even today, with employers citing “lack of technical skills” along with “lack of relevant professional qualifications or skilled trade certifications” in the talent market. Over 80% millennials aspire to become a leader, at a senior executive position. Conversely, there exists a 10-12% reality gap between the leadership and core business skills that millennials possess and what businesses value. This presents an opportunity to invest and innovate the way we develop our future leaders.

Professionals are most employable when they have broad-based education and training. Although the government and public sector have taken steps to address these challenges by initiating policies like the National Policy on Skill Development, we need to focus on providing a strong vocational education, the foundation of which must be set at the school level. Institutes have to adopt a multiple intelligence model that leverages the strengths-based approach to learning and excellence. This inculcates a combination of basic, vocational or technical core work-skills to ensure our future workforce is equipped to be adaptable to the world of work.

In our ancient past, our sages, who were “educators” of yore, had a taxonomy of skills for traders, warriors, blacksmiths, farmers, artists. The educational system was developed around it. They provided for a common foundational grounding to all students before channelising each of them to vocational skill development. We may want to adopt a similar approach while developing a contemporary framework. Maverick—Deloitte’s inter-college competition—offers an opportunity of such learning. Creating a simulation experience, it focuses on building solutions mindset, leadership behaviours and client service competencies, for students to immerse themselves in what a typical day in the corporate world entails.

Have the WILL to transform

Organisations must have the will to transform the way they engage with their millennial workforce. Currently, there is little evidence that industry in India views lack of skilled workforce as a major constraint, or that it is willing to pay a premium for skilled or certified workers. The call of the hour is to take bolder decisions—be it in providing appropriate weightage to certifications or redefining remunerations and benefits to respect educational qualifications.

While the younger workforce is set on excelling and progressing through career milestones quickly, we have to create the necessary infrastructure and mindset to support them. We have to rethink the way we are structured, and at times even relook at something as simple as reporting constructs and operating models. However, only when we embrace this paradigm shift in our thinking, will we truly move forward.

Millennials thrive on innovation. Given our dynamic markets and the rapid pace of change, we as businesses and industries must thrive on this ability to innovate and evolve—be it in a structured environment or on the fly! We must implement disruptive innovation not just in the way we do business but also in the way we attract, engage and retain our talent. Whether it is through unconventional routes such as gamification, or adopting social channels to seek and engage with talent, it is important we think and act differently.

As future leaders, the millennial workforce is not difficult to engage with. They prepare us best and contribute the most to our success story for the new world of work. It is important that we invest in growing the skills of our incoming workforce and be determined about transforming our business to accommodate their aspirations.

This MILL-SKILL-WILL mantra is one of the ways forward, for corporate India as a whole, to move ahead as one nation, and build a workforce that is a force to reckon with.

By SV Nathan

The author is senior director & chief talent officer, Deloitte in India

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