May 2014

A new generation enters the workforce

A revealing new report on the 'beta generation', produced by vInspired and supported by Tata Consultancy Services, brought together almost 30 business leaders, parliamentarians and policy makers to focus on the attitudes, ambitions and skills needs of today's 16-21 year-olds

The new generation workforce: entrepreneurial, internet-savvy, hungry for opportunity
‘Skills 2.0: New Skills for a New Generation’ was a lively House of Commons breakfast debate that highlighted some significant challenges for the government, employers, teachers and trainers. Staged as part of the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT) programme of themed policy events, its focus was ‘The Beta Generation: How young people are surfing the crisis,’ a new piece of research from volunteering and skills organisation — vInspired. It was set in the context of high youth unemployment, but there was certainly room for optimism in the report’s key findings, as outlined by Hannah Mitchell, vInspired’s head of knowledge and innovation.

The report is based on a YouGov survey of over 1,000 young people. Its research suggests that the cohort that has grown up with austerity has a largely positive outlook on life, is entrepreneurial, resilient, motivated to learn, risk-taking and self-reliant when it comes to forging a career.

As digital natives, this group is unsurprisingly at ease with technology and social media — using the internet to gain knowledge and new skills, make money and create new opportunities. And as the name suggests, members of the Beta Generation are keen to try out new things but are not afraid to fail.

Some headlines:

  • Eighty one percent agree that they can’t sit around and wait for things to happen to them.
  • Fifty nine percent are confident they will have a good future.
  • Seventy three percent say that if something goes wrong, they’ll try something different.
  • One in five describe themselves as entrepreneurial.
  • Two-thirds have already sold things online to make money.
  • Three-quarters have used the internet to learn from other people.
  • Enjoyment and satisfaction in work are ranked higher than salary.
  • Only half want to work for one employer during their career.
  • Among young people surveyed in the sample who are not currently in employment, education or training, attitudes were similar but they felt much less likely to be able to access opportunities — a particular challenge acknowledged across the Skills 2.0 discussion group.
Journalism graduate Caroline Odogwu, 25, is the co-founder of the ‘She is You’ project

If more inspiration was needed, two young social entrepreneurs were on hand to prove what can be achieved with personal motivation and the right support at the right time.

Journalism graduate Caroline Odogwu, aged 25, co-founded the ‘She is You’ project after she was made redundant from her job at a television company. Her plan was to extend her existing voluntary work to help young women in her area of South London build confidence and life skills through tailored workshops.

Ms Odogwu secured seed funding from vInspired and support from youth enterprise charity Business Launchpad. The venture has now welcomed over 100 girls to its workshops and Ms Odogwu has joined the Business Launchpad marketing team.

Entrepreneurship started early for 17- year-old A level student Lizzie Beale, who applied for vInspired Cashpoint funding two years ago to help her mount a local youth democracy project in Milton Keynes. ‘The Big MK Youth Debate’ has involved training 80 young people to run workshops and learn debating skills in order to put local concerns directly to MK councillors in panel sessions. Communication on Facebook was central to the project and the ‘young MPs’ have successfully campaigned on issues like bus services.

Lizzie Beale, 17, applied for vInspired Cashpoint funding to help her mount a local youth democracy project in Milton Keynest

Ms Beale, who hopes to hand on the project leadership baton when she goes to university this year, shared this insight: ‘Today’s young people grow up surrounded by challenges that the older generation don’t understand because they never faced them themselves. Volunteering helps young people to develop their own skills and face new challenges in order to help them stand out.’

So how can decision-makers in industry and government harness entrepreneurial instincts like these? And how do employers adapt to the changing hopes and attitudes to employment of the future workforce? The IPT session gave its participants plenty of food for thought.

For a company like TCS, whose future depends on fresh ‘tech-savvy’ young talent entering its UK workforce, the motivation to learn more about and engage directly with the Beta Generation was clear, as TCS director of corporate sustainability Yogesh Chauhan explained. The TCS ‘IT Futures’ programme, which aims to inspire thousands of young people in schools, colleges and universities with creative technology projects, is part of that ambition.

The question of how big corporations like TCS are viewed by the 16-21 year-olds and how those companies can make sure they attract the talent they need was certainly one theme exercising minds around the discussion table. The fact that the young people surveyed seemed to rate a company’s values more highly than the pay packet it offered could certainly be one factor. Others suggested ideas that might give companies an edge included:

  • More work experience opportunities and a more diverse existing workforce.
  • More openness to new ways of working, including non-traditional ways in which the Beta Generation may choose to work.
  • Better dialogue between people at different levels in a company, including through social media.

One central issue raised was the transition from education to employment. Whose responsibility is it to provide the skills needed to make young people desirable employees? A strong view was that ‘sustained quality engagement’ around skills, with individual young people, would be more productive than just showcasing companies in schools and colleges. The former approach would also allow companies to build real understanding and trust, it was argued.

There was a consensus that the role of families in engaging and inspiring young people — be it with education, employment possibilities or volunteering — could be critical. The vInspired report highlighted how important families are in the lives of the young people questioned.

And from the young entrepreneurs, the group learned what might be done differently in schools: better, broader careers education; more practical life skills training and job interview practice; more and much earlier training in financial literacy.

The discussion took place just days after record numbers of children and teenagers attended this year’s Big Bang science and technology fair in Birmingham. Hundreds of companies — including TCS — as well as universities and colleges challenged tens of thousands of young visitors with fun, hands-on experiences, in a bid to inspire the next generation into careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Weren’t there more opportunities like that to collaborate and ‘cross-pollinate’ in order to engage young talent? That is undoubtedly a discussion to be continued.

Read the full Beta Generation report here:

Find out more about the TCS ‘IT Futures’ programme:

Source: TCS UK & Ireland