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

Ann All

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 31, 2007 9:07 AM TRSnell TRSnell  says:
I am a 40-something IT Mgr. at a company of 350 staff. I have two full time tech. support desk staff in addition to others. One of them feels he is undervalued, but he cannot overcome an inability to get to work on time at 8:30am. He admits this. I tell him, that this is a rule and when performance evaluation time comes we discuss this. To no avail. How do you get over that? I don't care what the upbringing or culture is among the younger generation. The day begins at 8:30am - period.By the way, I can barely read my 18-year old daughter's e-mails to me - so much for grammar and spelling.Maybe us 40+ somethings are all wrong. Reply
Jun 12, 2008 10:46 AM veo veo  says:
TRSnell - I'm a 33 year old technology manager and I'm not sure why, but I can understand both sides of this situation. I work for a 50,000+ corporation and am frequently a managerial 'bridge' between generation Y employees and baby boomer mangers. Boomers and their elders seem to be rule-based. A rule is a rule, period. This sounds a lot like your attendance policy. But think of it from your employees stand-point.. is there a compelling **ACTUAL** reason he needs to be in the door at 8:30am sharp? Or is it just arbitrary? If he arrives at 8:45 does the whole world stop? Is there customers waiting at his desk or a meeting he's missing? If the answer to these is "no, not really" then perhaps you should re-think your arbitrary rule. Younger generations are optimizers and in his mind, he's simply managing his time better. Reply

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