Kathryn Cave (Global) - IT Skills Part 3 - Generation Y

The global IT skills landscape is uneven and in need of overhauling. Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect, continues with her series. This week, generation Y.

To accompany our special report on ‘The Global IT Skills Landscape, Summer 2011' IDG Connect has created a four-part series on IT skill. Part three looks at the role of generation Y.

The first microprocessor was launched in 1971, the Internet itself only began in 1991; there is arguably no other industry where young people are more important. Generation Y, which includes Facebook founder Mark Zucherberg, is loosely defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s: this is the first group of people to have grown up with technology, but what impact will this have on the workplace?

Some people have claimed generation Y's instinctive use of social media will revolutionise work. Yet a recent study by Citrix-Online revealed that generation X is actually more likely to use social media for business than generation Y; while in April, Forrester Research suggested that generation Y and X ‘aren't that much different'. Maybe this whole debate simply stems from an ingrained suspicion of the next generation. When we posed the following question in our recent survey, ‘What do you think are the reasons for any IT employment problems in your areas? - Entry level workers have a different work ethic to older employees', the majority of responders around the world answered yes.

There were some interesting comments on the subject too, one IT consultant in India said, "Entry level workers expect a faster career growth to older employees", while a business manager in the United States stated, "the best IT talent is older, but not respected at higher levels in business today." The counter argument is neatly summarised by one IT manager from the United States who said, "cloud based IT careers are not adopted as quickly by older IT personnel" and another security manager from the US said there is a "demographic imbalance as boomers retire and leave the work force, there is no one with their skills".

These issues resurface with every new generation. In fact, as Charles Warner put it in a recent LinkedIn discussion, "This sounds exactly like the same issues raised when we "Baby Boomers" entered the job market, and again, when the "Gen x" crowd entered them market..." But the IT industry has changed and as Gabriel Cogo explained on the same thread "[Today] capable IT workers are quite informed of their potential, and have the opportunity to compare jobs with others around the world. Before the internet, people compared jobs with neighbours and friends, now you can compare your position and skills with people from the most variable places".

This is an interesting point because there is no denying that young people entering the job market now have different expectations from older workers. They have grown up in a truly global online community, which makes it very easy to compare lifestyles and salaries with their contemporaries. This could naturally lead to higher expectations and greater dissatisfaction if those expectations are not met.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Management, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has analysed generational differences in attitudes toward work. The report supports this theory as it showed that millennials want more free time and value compensation than young people did 30 years ago. In addition to this, a recent Royal Bank of Scotland survey of 12,000 UK teenagers showed that that the average teenager expects to be paid over £60k a year by the time they are 35; more than twice the average salary of this age bracket. What is more recent news had been full of reports that this is the first generation that will be poorer than its parents.

Only time will tell whether generation Y will shake up the IT industry, bring a series of inflated unmet expectations into the workplace, or really make very little difference at all. But what is interesting is that so many people believe that younger workers are very different from their older peers.

• Next Thursday: IT skills, part 4 - the future

Missed the previous parts?

IT skills, part 1 - ‘talentism'
IT skills, part 2 - training

Tell us what you think: either pop your comment below, or if you prefer, drop me an email at Kathryn_cave@idg.com Kathryn Cave is Editor of IDG Connect International.