Understanding Different Generations in the Technology Industry
by Javier Ceide
June 25, 2019
When it comes to generations in the IT workforce, it’s all been said before. Or has it?
There is no shortage of online literature that details the characteristics of the different generations: Baby Boomers are retiring. Generation X is fiercely independent. Millennials are glued to their phones. Generation Z is too young to matter to businesses.
Are these accurate descriptions of your current and prospective employees, or are they generalizations that ultimately hurt your recruiting process (and culture)? When so much information is available on each of these groups, the pitfall is that many IT organizations are overwhelmed. They end up focusing on one characteristic with tunnel vision while completely disregarding the nuances of each generation. It’s time to take a step back and understand what each generation of the tech workforce actually looks like.
Generations at a Glance
To begin, let’s take a brief look at the facts surrounding each generation and what they mean for your company or IT department:
Is it true that 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each day? Not necessarily. 10,000 individuals in the U.S. turn 65 each day, leading to that often-cited retirement statistic. While many of these individuals might retire soon, more and more are working longer into their lives. Preparing for their inevitable retirement is necessary, but it’s just as important to harness their base of knowledge prior to that point. Baby Boomers possess a great deal of experience, having lived through recessions, bubbles growing, bubbles bursting, and so much more. They know what tried-and-true processes work regardless of the technology at hand and have much to offer the rest of your workforce.
For years, especially during the rise of the dot-com era, Generation X was the answer to IT hiring. This generation took on roles and grew into the high-level IT positions they enjoy today. However, they are no longer the largest generation in the workforce. It’s important to note that this generation’s growth has tapered off. Gen Xers are less likely to change careers and enter the IT workforce at this point. At the same time, the oldest members of Generation X are reaching their middle and upper 50s. If they’ve done well in IT and feel financially comfortable, they may even be considering retirement.
This oft-talked-about generation may already make up the bulk of your workforce, with its oldest members in their mid-to-late 30s. Millennials likely make up many of your mid-level IT roles, with some even securing executive positions. These are the individuals taking the roles Gen X leaves open as Gen X either replaces Baby Boomers or retires themselves. In some cases, Millennials are even filling the shoes of Baby Boomers directly, especially given the sheer shortage of IT professionals. Finally, younger Millennials will have graduated not long ago, and if they did so in another field, they are realizing the opportunities that reside within technology. They may be cross-training and switching over to the IT field, which can be a welcome boon to the shallow talent pool.
The youngest members of Generation Z are still very young, and a clear distinction of where Gen Z ends will come in the future. What is clear now is that these individuals will grow up around and work on technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. Regardless of what the future holds, the oldest members of Gen Z are graduating college. They are entering the workforce right now and represent the influx of workers employers like you need. It’s a mistake to overlook the youngest generation, and preparing your roles and recruiting processes for Generation Z will prove crucial for maintaining a fully staffed workforce.
Knowledge Transfer Between Generations
It’s a basic fact and part of life’s natural progression that younger generations replace older ones in the workforce. A chief reason it’s so important to understand each generation is that it’s the secret to fostering better knowledge transfer between your employees.
Think back to a time when an employee retired or gave their two weeks’ notice and someone had to be found to fill the role. If that transition didn’t go smoothly, it probably interrupted productivity and hurt company culture in dangerous ways.
Today’s successful companies understand that mentorships are effective two-way avenues for knowledge transfer. Younger generations have a lot to learn from older ones about the IT industry, while older generations have a great deal to learn about the practical usage of new technologies in current society. Such knowledge transfer shouldn’t wait until a Baby Boomer announces a retirement or a Millennial gets promoted into a new management position and needs training. Continuously sharing information and building cross-generational relationships keeps everyone on the same page – and sets the stage for smooth transitions in the future.
Recruiting Millennials and Generation Z
When you’re left asking where you can find more tech pros, the answer lies with Millennials and Generation Z. In order to recruit these younger generations successfully, it’s necessary to understand what drives their professional ambitions, preferences, and working styles.
A focus on corporate transparency in tech is necessary across the board, but it’s especially vital when interacting with Millennials and Gen Z. These generations have grown up with the internet we know today, and they are wary of promises that sound too good to be true. They know that information is currency and vet every decision through online reviews or data. An open and honest digital presence in the form of a website and maintained Glassdoor and LinkedIn pages is required to give these groups an authentic view of your company.
You’ve heard the stereotype that Millennials lack loyalty and change jobs often, but the reality is that 86% want to stay and grow with their current employer. Furthermore, more than half believe workers should stay with the same company for over 20 years. So, what happens when Millennials change jobs? They greatly value their growth, and they seek out the employer who offers them the career path they desire. When recruiting younger generations, get to know what that career path is and determine how you can offer it to them.
Younger individuals in the workforce have clear memories of the excitement that came along with unboxing their first smart phone or tablet. Many have chased that feeling into IT careers, always seeking to get their hands on exciting and meaningful technologies. To speak to this, tout your cutting-edge projects in the recruiting process. If you work with new or emerging programs, highlight them clearly in job descriptions. Show Millennials and Gen Z that the tools they will use have great value to the company and the world, and they’ll be hooked.
It’s been written many times that that digital natives like Gen Z and Millennials are losing their soft skills, especially in the way they communicate. It’s true that younger generations often prefer non-verbal channels of communication such as emails or text, but it’s dangerous to take this assumption too far. In the recruiting process, by all means cater to these preferences. Ask candidates how they want updates, and if they prefer to schedule an interview via text, send them times and dates that way.
Remember that the earlier a candidate is on the recruiting timeline, the more imperative it is to cater to their communication style. Once they reach the formal interview stage and are closer to an offer, it’s a better time to talk about realistic on-the-job communication more specifically and discuss how texting may not be the best everyday communication tool. But before you make assumptions, know that Forbes has found Generation Z excels at face-to-face communication. They’ve grown up hearing about the negative stereotype given to Millennials, and they’ve made a point to represent the opposite.
Understanding the Generations in Your IT Workforce
Above all the stereotypes and generational definitions, individuals are unique. Nobody likes to have assumptions made about their intentions, their working style, or their abilities. While people of similar ages often share many characteristics, it’s always best to get to know the individuals you are speaking to in your company or recruiting process. What do your employees want? What does the talent on the other side of the interview desk truly care about? Ask them and adapt accordingly, and your culture and hiring will be future-proofed.
Looking for IT talent? Need help speaking to different generations in your recruiting? IntellaPro can help.