Young people in developed economies are significantly more pessimistic about their job prospects and less assured in their technology aptitude than their counterparts in emerging economies, according to research commissioned by IT outsourcing provider Infosys.
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The study, conducted by independent research agency Future Foundation, polled 9,000 young people (between the ages of 16 and 25) in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. Respondents across all geographies recognized the importance of technology skills to their job opportunities; majorities in both emerging economies (74 percent in India and 71 percent in China) and developed countries (60 percent in France and 59 percent in the UK) said that computer sciences were key educational subjects.
However, respondents in emerging markets were much more confident in their tech prowess than those in developed nations. For example, 81 percent of young men in India considered themselves capable or highly capable in their computer science skills vs. just 51 percent of American men. Likewise, 70 percent of Indian women said they were capable or highly capable vs. just 42 percent of American women and 33 percent of women in the UK.
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Those in developed economies also suspected that they might have fewer career opportunities than their parents did. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of young workers in France believe their job prospects are worse than those of their parents’, according to the research. By contrast, only 49 percent of youths in India believe their job opportunities are worse than those of the preceding generation.
Education opportunity and strategy matters
Many emerging markets have taken a strategic approach to technology education and training, using their economic growth to finance new strategies and opportunities. As a result, says Holly Benson, vice president and organizational transformation leader at Infosys, “youth in emerging markets see mostly upside—new and unprecedented opportunities that simply never existed before. Youth in developed economies see a significant amount of downside—automation reducing jobs, globalization reducing domestic jobs. Many fear being able to maintain their parents’ standard of living.”
What’s more, young people in developing regions haven’t had as much exposure to education. “Youth in these locales are more likely willing to make do with lesser amounts of training and to fill gaps with initiative and experience. Many have a ‘let me get after it’ enthusiasm for learning on the job. This translates to confidence and optimism,” says Benson. “In contrast, youth in developed nations have generally grown up with great educational advantage. They expect to be fed a steady diet of preparatory training and they feel uncomfortable when the preparation has shortcomings or gaps. They are less comfortable simply jumping in, particularly when the game is getting tougher.”
Acquiring tech skills for a successful future career
Concerns about the future know no boundaries.In emerging economies such as China and Brazil, 68 percent of respondents said that they are worried that a lack of technology skills will make it increasingly hard for young people to advance their career prospects. But that may be a motivating factor to seek out technical training; 78 percent of respondents in Brazil and India are confident that they have the necessary skills for a successful future career. That sentiment is much lower in developed countries: 53 percent in France and 51 percent in Australia.
Concerns about technology skills come in two areas. First there are worries about an adequate technology foundation. “Basic technology skills need to be established either in pre-employment education or in special foundational programs for entry-level recruits,” says Benson. The more challenging issue is the need for life-long learning, particularly as technology advances more rapidly. “Digital natives—the tech-savvy generations that have been in constant close touch with technology since their childhoods—are keenly aware of the evolution of digital capabilities,” says Benson. “What they see is that innovators are generating new technologies and companies are onboarding new technologies far faster than corporate learning functions are uplifting employee skills or updating corporate curricula. This creates a dynamic tension that discomfits them. They sense that they will need to demonstrate and apply new skills, yet anticipate getting little or no assistance in acquiring them.”
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The results highlight the need for employers to create learning functions that keep pace with the times, Benson says. “They will need to become adept at working with their internal business partners to identify changing needs, and perhaps even at scanning the market for evolving trends to anticipate such changes. They will need to establish delivery capabilities that can rapidly reach global populations with new information. At the heart of the solution is a commitment to invest in learning — not only to enable employees, but also to retain them by offering richer development opportunities than talent competitors.”
These newest entrants to the workforce understand that learning will be a continual pursuit. Between 78 percent of Brazilian youth and 65 percent of Chinese youth are willing to completely retrain themselves if required. And around 80 percent of young people across all markets say that continuous development of skills is essential to work success.
“What global enterprises need to do is to create a global culture in which employees in all geographies are expected to continuously upgrade their skills portfolio, have abundant opportunities to do so, and are rewarded for taking advantage of those opportunities,” Benson says. “Promotions and leadership selection decisions should reward employees in all geographies who lead the way on developing and demonstrating ‘liquid skills’: skills that are fluid and adaptable to changing business needs.”
And that delivery of and recognition of skills should go beyond technical skills. As robotics and automation take over an increasing number of tasks (approximately 40 percent of all respondents said their current job could be done by a computer within the next decade), young people placed significant value on developing less replaceable skills.
“Technology training is necessary but not sufficient,” says Benson. “Right-brain skills and interpersonal skills are recognized by the study as a universal priority. Right now, those skills cannot be taught by an automated learning platform. Corporate learning strategies, budgets and curricula must continue to include classroom learning or coaching on soft skills. It’s a business imperative. Youth see these skills as critical, and are looking for them in selecting employers. Moreover, these skills are imperative for the innovation, creativity and collaboration that power growth.”