Leadership Not a Top Priority for Millennials, Research Shows

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    Here are some millennial factoids you may find surprising: Only one in five millennials ranks leadership as a top career goal; they value IT, technical, and interpersonal skills over managerial skills; and millennial men are more likely than millennial women to aspire to fill leadership positions.

    Those are some of the key findings of global research recently conducted by ManpowerGroup, a human resource consulting firm based in Milwaukee. In an email interview with Chris Layden, managing director of Experis, a division of ManpowerGroup that focuses on recruitment and talent development in the IT, finance and engineering sectors, I was able to drill down on some of the findings. Layden began by elaborating on the finding that so few millennials rank leadership as a top goal:

    For many companies, as the baby boomers approach retirement, they’re keen to put training processes in place to elevate millennial managers and prepare them for the leadership roles of the future. But our research shows that millennial workers have different career aspirations, and being the boss is a low priority. Just 22 percent of millennials rank aspiring to leadership roles as a career goal. This figure includes: managing others (4 percent); getting to the top of an organization (6 percent); and owning their own company (12 percent). These activities ranked near the bottom of millennials’ list of career priorities in nearly every country surveyed, totalling less than one-third of respondents in all except India (34 percent) and Mexico (41 percent).

    Layden noted that the research challenged some of the conventional wisdom around what millennials tend to focus on in the workplace:

    Our research showed that millennials are far from the negative stereotypes they’re often inaccurately labelled with. In actual fact, they just have a different focus. Millennials are eager to learn skills, just not management skills. When asked what skills they’d most like to develop in the next year, 68 percent chose individual skills, including: IT and technology (20 percent); personal skills, teamwork, and communication (21 percent); and technical job skills (27 percent). Interestingly, our research showed only 32 percent of respondents chose managerial skills, including people management (13 percent) and leadership (19 percent).

    Skills are the new currency for millennials. Four out of five millennials would even change jobs for a role with the same pay and more skills training opportunities. Millennials expect immediate skills development and high-touch feedback; yet, worryingly, many millennials doubt their managers have the authority to follow through on promises made.

    I asked Layden to what he would attribute the finding that millennial men tend to aspire to leadership positions more than millennial women do. He offered this analysis:

    Our research showed that in 24 of the 25 countries surveyed, men consider reaching leadership roles — managing others, getting to the top of an organization, and owning their own company — to be a higher career priority than women do. The United States has the largest gender gap, with men ranking leadership activities 10 percent higher than women, while France is the only country where men and women aspire to leadership roles equally. There are a number of reasons for this. With an entrenched male culture, stereotyping, and unconscious bias, it is critical to break down barriers to achieve gender parity. This must be led by CEOs, especially males, to demonstrate commitment to helping women secure leadership positions.

    Established female leaders acknowledge familiar obstacles throughout their careers – lack of role models, gendered career paths into support functions like HR and communications, and a lack of access to sponsors and an influential network. Changing culture so that performance and outcomes are recognized and rewarded is critical. On average, global leaders believe it will take 17 years to level the playing field and achieve gender equality in the workplace. Millennials believe they are the generation to make a difference, but they’re realistic about how long it will take.

    I asked Layden if there was anything in the findings to suggest that the expectations and aspirations of millennials in the IT industry are any different from those in other industries. His response:

    Our research showed an overwhelming majority of millennials are eager to learn new skills to stay ahead of the curve throughout their careers. When asked what skills they’d like to develop most in the next year, 68 percent chose individual skills. This included 20 percent of those who were keen to upskill themselves in the IT and technology field. As demand for IT grows across all industries, particularly manufacturing, millennials have a need and desire to adapt to industry changes, giving them the versatility and skillset to enable them to move from one industry to the next. As digitalization growth continues to surge ahead, millennials know they need to upskill regularly and adapt to succeed and meet the changing needs of the roles of the future.

    Layden went on to highlight what’s driving the IT talent shortage:

    Our broader Talent Shortage Survey research, released in October, showed that IT has jumped seven places in the ranking of hard-to-fill roles — those roles are now the second most difficult to fill globally. Unmet demand for IT workers is being felt more acutely in Asia-Pacific, where IT roles are the most difficult to fill for the first time in 11 years. The talent shortage is driven, in part, by changes to skills requirements, with employers increasingly needing more specialist skillsets, and with one in five reporting that applicants do not have the relevant experience required. Millennials are increasingly finding that they need to upskill and diversify into new areas. Skills adjacency, agility, and learnability — having the desire and ability to learn new skills to become and stay employable throughout long career journeys — will be crucial.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.


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