Generation Y is entering the workforce, bringing with it a knowledge of new technologies, creativity, optimism, awareness of what it wants and how to get it.
“In the old days,” says Robert Comeau, director of human resources for Couche-Tard, ” we could take it for granted that a good job and a good salary would lead to employee loyalty. This is no longer the case. We must now contribute to the career management of young people, be closer to employees and their needs. They have a very specific short-term career plan. I’m often surprised at how quickly they want to be promoted.”
When they meet with an employer, generation Y youths often have more than one offer in hand. They want to quickly move up through the ranks. “Two years, for them, is medium term, while three years is too long,” states Comeau.
This new environment is a challenge for employers. Couche-Tard’s Comeau says, “We try to determine, right at the interview, whether the candidate not only has the talent to carry out the assignment we have in mind, but also whether he or she has the patience to stick with it for a while before asking for a promotion we won’t be able to give.”
According to Comeau, it’s the main challenge he has to face. “We’ve just hired some corporate accounting analysts. The applicants wanted to know where their proposed position was on the organizational chart, the age of their supervisor and when they could expect a promotion, title of senior analyst, head of accounting or coordinator. In a company like ours, which has quite informal job titles, this is a big challenge. We don’t really have career paths like that. Couche-Tard is a company with a relatively flat organizational structure, with career advancement lying in the job tasks, the challenges involved.”
The expectations of young people are requiring companies to think about their employees’ career development right from the start, rather than two or three years down the road, as was formerly the case. “We tell ourselves that if we’re going to lose people in two years, we’re better off not hiring them in the first place rather than investing in them and losing them in 18 months,” points out Comeau.
Will Couche-Tard review its structure? “Perhaps, but we don’t want to change a job title just to make it look better on a C.V.,” replies Comeau. “If we make changes, they will have to be reflected by a change in the level of responsibility. We believe that the company is changing quickly enough for a young new hire to experience more responsibility in three years through increasingly complex assignments. We will probably make some changes to meet the expectations of young people. How extensive they will be, we don’t know yet.”
A generation that cut its teeth on technology
Generation Y has been indelibly marked by technology, to a much greater extent than the slightly older Xs, believes Nathalie Francisci, president of executive search firm Venatus Conseil. This reality has affected their personality. “Generation Y was introduced to computers, the iPod and Nintendo at a very young age. They are used to going from one to the other. They also have their own e-mail address very early on, and chat buddies all over the world. This generation has been pampered, coddled and much more supported than generation X. This allows us to make behaviour predictions that we may have to fine-tune in five or six years, but where a few main characteristics can already be identified.
Among these, the president of Venatus includes creativity, the need to be stimulated, i.e. overstimulated, lack of respect for authority, individualism and a great aptitude for communication.
“Young people are adept at quickly seeking out information,” she believes. “They have developed an extensive communication network, notably via electronic means. They cherish their independence, and their employers will have to give them a lot of flexibility, value them and give them room to grow. They are young and creative, and results-oriented, but not at all in the same way as their elders. They also need to be busy on several fronts at the same time.”
Working in silos is not for them. “Companies that do not succeed in creating a collaborative structure and teamwork will experience difficulties,” predicts Francisci. “The silo mentality runs counter to their values. In addition, they want to work in companies on the technological leading edge.”
Generation Y youths, with their vast networks, like to compare themselves. They want their careers to move ahead quickly. “They want to quickly become their own bosses, along with the corresponding job title and salary,” she confirms.
According to Francisci, generation Y surprisingly places much less importance on family than generation X. “They think that, hey—if it’s good for me and it allows me to move up, I’m willing to work 80 hours a week. They also want some balance in their life, but not in the same way as generation X.”
Work vs family life
The Fédération des caisses Desjardins has just completed a major reorganization. “We revised our service offering to the caisses,” explains Louise Grégoire, head of staffing at the Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec. “They wanted us to work more as consultants. “This change led to many job realignments and a lot of hiring. “We wanted to hire the best people possible for the good jobs,” she states.
Young people and their “why-not” ways were not excluded. “They challenge us, which is a good thing,” says Grégoire. “They are competent, and have a lot to give a potential employer, but they also want to achieve a work-family balance. They are very sensitive to programs and any measures implemented to achieve this. At the hiring interview, they ask about the work load, hours of work and work-family balance. Although hey are less willing than their elders to work regular overtime, they are nevertheless open to meeting the company’s requirements.”
“Generation Y enjoys a very palpable level of self-confidence,” confirms Julie Bélanger, team leader for the university succession program of the centre for youth recruiting and evaluation at the Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec. “It’s an ambitious generation that wants to move up much more quickly than the one before it. In this way, it’s different from generation X, which was more willing to put in the time and gradually climb the corporate ladder.”
Grégoire sees even less corporate loyalty by young people these days compared to just a few years ago. “Loyalty is not quite as high as it used to be,” she acknowledges, “but the gap is not that great. We have very low turnover here at the Fédération.”
Young people now have many more options. They want to have interesting jobs with a work-family balance. They are not unique in this; their elders have wished it for quite some time already, but the difference is that generation Y wants it, right now. What is also changing is that for the first time, new workers have a greater possibility of achieving this objective than their predecessors. Generation Y is arriving on the job market armed with its own values, in an environment of labour shortages, where youths will be able to pick and choose their employer. Are companies ready for the challenge? This appears to be the case for very few of them. What was rather surprising from the research done for this article is that few companies appear to consider this issue a very significant matter. Many companies still lack a workforce plan that takes the new labour market reality into account. Let’s be honest with ourselves—employers no longer have the pick of the crop!