Kids and Work Culture: When I Was Your Age, I Worked 9-to-5

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Is familiarity with technology creating a lack of interest in IT careers among today's students? Maybe so, says Kate Kaiser, an associate professor of IT at Marquette University who is quoted in an interesting Computerworld article about the generation that is poised to enter the workforce in a few short years.


Technology is "an expected part of life" for them, rather than a potential vocation, says Kaiser. That disinterest, along with lingering fallout from the dot-com bust and concerns over offshoring, has led to a 70 percent drop in college freshmen selecting computer science as a major since 2000, according to the Computing Research Association.


Part of the answer may lie in academic programs that seek to blend IT with other business disciplines, like theIT Service Management program that IBM helped create at Missouri State University.


The good news is, thanks to their tech-friendly childhoods, up-and-coming employees enjoy collaborating as part of a team, like to search for solutions, and are comfortable communicating with coworkers in far-flung locations.


The not-so-good news: Many of them lack basic written and oral communication skills. A survey by placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found basic tech skills lacking in 5 percent of college grads, vs. a worrisome 27 percent with deficiencies in critical thinking skills and 50 percent whose writing abilities were not up to snuff.


Marquette University's Kaiser says the "cryptic one-liners" used in instant messages and on sites like Facebook don't lend themselves well to presentations, proposals and other traditional business communications.


As a VP of human resources points out in the Computerworld article, young people also have an expectation -- again, fostered by the ways they use technology -- to work independently and on flexible schedules. His company, a pharmaceuticals provider, has made some concessions to attract young talent, including allowing employees to work one day a week from home and to adjust the times they come in and leave the office.


That seems to be the key question: How much will companies ask their employees to change, and how much will they be willing to change themselves? The experts in the Computerworld article seem to agree that the two sides will need to meet in the middle.


Interestingly, a lawsuit brought by Google's former director of engineering shows that some of the same problems may apply when workers with years of more traditional business experience are employed by companies that value non-traditional attributes. Though the 54-year-old contends that age discrimination led to his dismissal, it may have been more a case of poor cultural fit.