This article was written by Tanja Hinterstoisser (Champlain College) and Daniel Connolly (University of Denver), who presented on this topic at our Vermont Connected Summit.
Technology is one of the greatest drivers of societal change—impacting everything from how people learn and communicate to how they play, work, and shop. Accordingly, the implications for tomorrow’s workforce and the skills and competencies required to succeed will be utterly profound. For the first time in history, the workforce is comprised of individuals working side by side from four different generational periods: Matures (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1977), and Millenials (1978-1995). Soon, a fifth generation (Generation Z, those born after 1995) will be joining. Each generation was shaped by various world events, technological advances, and societal norms of the time. These, in turn, influenced values, attitudes towards work, and educational expectations.
It is important to note that while no one generation is necessarily any better than another, how they use and depend on technology at work and at home are very different. Those heading up many large, established businesses and organizations tend to have the business acumen, organizational savviness, and seasonality afforded by a long professional career, but they tend to lack the technology skills and know-how that other generations, most notably Millennials, bring to the table, especially around the ability to use social media and new mobile technologies. Consequently, each generation has different priorities, work styles, communication styles, motivational factors, and work ethics. Thus, understanding what makes each generation tick is important to giving feedback and rewards, to harnessing talent, and to creating productive and harmonious workplaces. To help, mentoring and reverse mentoring (where the younger generation helps to teach technology skills to older generations) are growing in popularity in today’s workplace.
As a result of technology, organizations are becoming more transparent, and employees can connect to each other from various geographical locations and time zones. It is not uncommon to see matrixed organizational structures, telecommuters, and the deployment of collaborative technologies to get things done by teams spread across the globe. Important decisions can be crowd-sourced rather than follow the traditional hierarchy of command that had previously dominated so many work cultures. People should be thinking now about what skills and competencies will be required in three to five years and how best to acquire these. Given that over 40% of one’s lifetime is spent working, it is important to make sure people are well equipped if they are to be happy, engaged, and productive in their professional careers. Some of the high growth career opportunities will be in the areas of data analytics, cybersecurity, mobile app development, and sustainability.
The most important skill for anyone to possess today is the willing ability to continuously learn. In the end, technology matters, but it is not enough to focus on the newness or cool aspects of technology. Technology is only of value if people know how to use it and use it purposely towards achieving an end. Thus, the real value will stem from having a technologically-proficient workforce using technology as a powerful tool to accomplish great things.