Generational cohorts are groups of people, usually born in the same 20-year time span, who share common life experiences and thus share common attitudes and traits. Our workforce today arguably consists of four major generations: the World War II generation (born between 1922 and 1943), the baby boom generation (born from 1944 to 1960), generation X (born between 1961 and 1980) and generation Y (born from 1981 to present day).
Think of the college grads you’ve seen moving through your new-hire programs in the past two years. Think also of the segment of your workforce who will comprise the bulk of your front-line workers by 2010. Think of the people who will grab the torch from the third of your employees who are soon going to be eligible for retirement. You are thinking of generation Y.
Generation Y is also known as the Internet generation, or ’Net generation, since from early childhood they were surrounded by digital technologies. PCs, PlayStations and cell phones are as comfortable to this group as the television was to previous groups.
Because of this, the ’Net generation’s use of technology is dramatically different from preceding generations. The Pew Foundation studied Internet habits of college students in 2002 and found that they are early adopters and heavy users of technology. All students surveyed began using computers at least by the time they were teens, and a fifth were computer-literate before the age of eight. Around 72 percent check e-mail daily; 85 percent own their own computers. On a typical day, 26 percent of college students use instant messenger. Additionally, they routinely use the Internet to help with their coursework and use e-mail to communicate with their professors.
In addition to the many unique traits the emerging group possesses, you can be sure they have three significant expectations:
- Expectations for real-time access: The new generation demands instant digital gratification. Previous generations waited a week for the film to be returned from the photomat; generation Y snaps digital pictures with camera phones and e-mails them to friends within minutes. Previous generations went to the local library to do research during normal business hours; generation Y accesses multiple libraries around the world via the Internet at any time. Previous generations waited until 6 p.m. for the nightly news with Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather; the ’Net generation gets e-mail headlines as they occur from CNN.com.
- Expectations for personalization: By the time students leave college today they are fully accustomed to shaping their digital world. This is user-centrism (think learner-centrism) to the extreme. They customize their Yahoo home pages to get local headlines and weather. They choose which news stories to read based on topic. And, of course, they create their own greatest hits collections by downloading favorite songs.
- Expectations for community: The ’Net generation is adept at working larger and more diverse social networks than previous generations. When I was a teen my social world consisted of a few friends on my block who could be quickly corralled for a game of touch football. But the power of digital communications has muted the importance of geography and magnified the value of common interests. Today’s teens use e-mail, instant messenger and cell phones to keep in frequent and immediate contact with dozens of friends.
As this new generation begins to flood your organization, how will you give them the job skills they need? How will you transfer knowledge from experienced workers to this new group? How will you continuously give them the knowledge they need in a business environment that changes constantly?
Do not underestimate how quickly and how dramatically the changes will occur. By the end of this decade we will have moved from a workforce that often has to be sold on e-learning to one that demands e-learning, knowledge management and communities of practice.Filed under: Learning Delivery, Technology