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The success of your IT organization depends on...millennials

by Dave Hannon

September 1, 2010

There’s a lot of talk about the role of “millennials” in the workplace, but the area this generation may have the biggest impact could be the IT organization -- YOUR IT organization. But if you want to get the most benefit from your Generation Y workers down the line, you may need to make some adjustments inside your own organization.

For the uninitiated, “millennials,” or Generation Y, refers to the generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000. If you’re a Baby Boomer manager, you might think of them as too young to impact your organization, but do the math again. These folks are in their 20s and according to a recent surveyby staffing firm TEKsystems, millennials now make up 21% of the IT workforce.

Truth be told, this generation may be the best suited for work in the IT organization. For starters, they’re extremely well educated. An absolutely fascinating survey (and I don’t use those terms together often) from the Pew Research Centerpoints out that, among 18 to 24 year olds a record 39.6% was enrolled in college as of 2008, and about a third of those enrolled in college now plan to go to graduate school. Interesting point: more female millennials graduate college than males, the first such generation.

And the research also shows they’re surprisingly supportive of business. Forty-four percent of millennials feel “business corporations generally strike a fair balance between making profits and serving the public interest,” compared with 35% each for Gen X and Baby Boomers.

But the real benefit to hiring millennials in the IT organization is their innate understand of and belief in technology. The Pew survey found that 74% of millennials believe new technology makes life easier. Not only do they use the Internet more than any other generation, 62% of them connect wirelessly to it and 74% of college graduated millennials are wireless, compared with 35% of Boomers.

In short, they are less focused on the restrictions of technology or awed by its power, and more accustomed to thinking of technology first when trying to solve a problem. Author Alec Levenson of the Center for Effective Organizations says in a recent article “the issue that organizations need to address is how the new technologies can change the nature of work for everyone. The younger generation is the place to go to see what is possible with new technologies.”

TEKsystems' Director of Technical Professional Programs, Michelle Webbgiven, agrees, saying given “the speed at which IT changes, the younger generations can sometimes offer more technical expertise in the hottest new tools and technologies.”

So the challenge for CIOs and other managers in the IT organization: How to at tract the best of this generation and leverage their unique skills (hint: it won’t be the same strategy you used for past generations). “IT leaders will need to make adjustments to their resource management strategies to accommodate the varied demographics of their workforce,” says TEKsystems' VP of Professional Development, Matt Hannigan. “You can’t expect to manage a new generation by old standards. Leaders will need to be vigilant in understanding what’s important to workers, what they expect, what inspires them and what stifles their passion.”

The good news is you might not have to throw money at them. IT organizations seeking to cater more to millennials in their hiring are less focused on salary and more focused on flexible schedules, telecommuting and improved professional development opportunities. The TEKsystems survey report points out that millennials “seek a high level of recognition, expect their leaders to teach them new information and strongly prefer a team-oriented environment.”  And a survey from Robert Half International and YahooHotJobs concludes that “to retain Gen Y workers, focus on the work environment. Workplace factors that are most important to Gen Y are working with a manger they respect and people they enjoy, and striking a balance between personal and work obligations.

Oh, one more thing. Do your best not to judge them based on their appearance. Almost 40% of them have tattoos and 23% have a body piercing that’s not in their ear.

Do you have an opinion on the role millennials are playing in the IT organization today? Post a comment here.

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