Over the weekend I read a cutting, Generation Next, from the March 2009 issue of Director magazine, discussing how the cohort of people born in or after 1980 are prompting changes in organisational approaches. Writer David Woodward quotes an April 2008 study by Talentsmoothie of 2,500 Gen Y people which found that they:
“had little interest in their parents’ work-dominated lives… weren’t seduced by salary and status. Instead, the ability to ‘make a difference’, balanced by plenty of downtime, was their career dream. … despite the current climate, Generation Y hasn’t altered its values. Recession or no recession, this is a group that will ‘walk away’ if the company doesn’t match its ideals.”
This, of course, poses a major challenge to organisations wishing to hang on to its talented young people – it’s apparently only about 10 years before Generation Y forms a solid majority of the UK workforce. “Fostering collaborative structures, where hierarchy plays second fiddle to flexibility, is seen as a way to attract the best graduates,” Woodward says. But it has to be a committed change in culture – not web 2.0 ‘lip service’ – from the top down, and any change shouldn’t be reversed simply because of a worsening economic climate.
Gen Y and UK construction plc
This sounds similar to the points that have been made in the UK construction industry for the past 15 years about partnering, integrated teams and collaborative working. And now that the sector is facing a deep recession, old-style adversarial behaviours are once again beginning to emerge, despite the efforts of Constructing Excellence, among others, to argue that this runs the risk of returning the industry to the slow, costly, inefficient and litigious habits that spawned the 1994 Latham and 1998 Egan reports.
Let’s face it: this will not be a construction industry attractive to Gen Y. We run the risk of losing out on talented individuals just when we need them most to bring in new perspectives and new skills. For example, at last week’s Ecobuild I attended a seminar on building information modelling (see EE post) and heard how US universities are no longer teaching students how to draw with computers (old-style CAD) but how to construct with computers (BIM). Once in the workplace these new smart, networked professionals are often given the task of running companies’ first BIM projects and thus become internal gurus in this more collaborative and inclusive approach to conceptualisation, planning, design, construction and facilities management.
It’s not just about BIM either, for there are many areas of construction project delivery where Web 2.0 and related networking skills could make a critical difference, from ‘crowd-sourcing’ new ideas, engaging local community or user/occupier interest and supply chain management, to capturing lessons learned from projects for future re-use and post-occupancy evaluation.
So how did Woodward recommend we manage and retain such talent? He draws on examples from Brazilian engineering firm Semco, from Cisco and London advertising agency St Luke’s. Peer pressure replaces bureaucracy; hierarchical structures are replaced by networks of councils and boards; silo-type approaches are superceded by collaboration and ‘a democracy of ideas’. Such approaches are also supported by financial incentives and by Web 2.0 technologies, enabling ‘leadership from the middle’.
It will be interesting to see if such techniques and structures penetrate UK architecture, engineering and construction businesses, and help them recruit, retain and exploit many Gen Y’s innate networking, multi-tasking and team-working talents. These skills may well make a crucial difference to organisations when the recovery finally starts to happen, but waiting until that recovery is well under way may be too late for some businesses – they run the risk of falling behind competitors with more progressive approaches.