Meet the needs of Gen Y or lose them


Malaysia will apparently be the first country in the world which will have more Gen Y workers than any other generation. This will happen in 2 years time, by 2015. What can companies do to meet their needs?

If it is not challenging enough for companies here that Malaysian talent is regionally sought after, they also have to deal with a major trend hitting the work force today.

We keep reading about various aspects of Gen Y, their behaviours, needs, expectations and one of the interesting trends happening in the work force in Malaysia is the large percentage of Gen Y coming into the workforce. This brings with it unique challenges companies need to face.

Using data from Malaysia’s Statistics department, Dr Karie Willyerd, co-author of The 2020 Workforce – How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today, shares that by 2015, over 50% of the workforce will be Gen Y’s.

This apparently will make Malaysia the country with the largest percentage of Gen Y in the world. The obvious challenge then for all companies is how to ensure they get the best out of this talent pool.

“You really want to start by understanding what is important to them when it comes to work,” says Willyerd who is also Chief Learning Officer of SuccessFactors, a human capital consulting company that is owned by German software company SAP. With this understanding will then come the challenge of getting the best out of this group.

Some key themes emerge here. Mentoring and coaching is very important to them and GenY want to know what the organization they are joining can do for them in this aspect. “This is about what you are doing to develop me. I am early in my life and career and want to make sure I am successful,” observes Willyerd of what GenY want.

The interesting challenge here however is that self development was not a priority for the baby boomer generation, those who are now approaching their 60′s and leaving the workforce. “But this was the generation that set the rules and structures for companies as we know them today and as a result most company structures and budgets are not set up for providing a whole bunch of training,” says Willyerd.

But this development focus is increasingly a key attraction when GenY make their decisions of which company to join. Which means, those companies which scoff at the immediate development needs of GenY will lose out. To what extent?

Well, Willyerd shares that SuccessFactors has just completed a global survey among recruiters and according to HR managers, 40% of GenY cite training and development as the top benefit that they want more of. But that’s not all. 42% says they want a mentor when they come into a company too.

Obviously companies can’t start assigning mentors to every young person they hire. So how do companies handle this issue? By looking at and learning from the early movers who have tried something that works.

Willyerd shares what American phone company AT&T is doing. Faced with high turnover of young talent and the challenge of meeting the needs of its younger workforce, AT&T pooled its experienced people into small groups of mentors who used a combination of social collaboration, webinars and classroom sessions to train a group of young staff who want to learn what they are offering. This could range from better understanding financial data to customer service to telco industry trends.

“Some sessions were recorded for staff who could not sit in so they could watch and later. Questions were taken by this group of mentors including over instant messaging (a medium GenY prefer as their communications channel). But what was even more interesting is that everyone then posts their training assignments online for both mentors and students, to give feedback on,” says Willyerd.

This is working really well or AT&T as one of the things Gen Y appreciate is feedback, even from their peers. For AT&T, this mentor approach helps it to give more of their staff the development they crave for  while at the same time helping the company identify the more high potential talent among their young. It then allocates one on one mentoring for these identified high potentials.

For Malaysian employers, this is an approach that is worth emulating by large companies and even medium sized ones which can then adapt it to their unique cultural traits. It is surely better than not addressing or taking half measures to meet the needs of the new generation of workers coming into the workforce.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Photo credit: Flickr user beezer b

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