If the under-25s could run our biggest companies (average age of board member: 58), what would they do?
At a recent off-the-record recruitment networking event, the mood got lively when the subject turned to current graduates. “Unemployable,” chimed one. “Hopeless,” chipped in another.
For a while now, mutterings in such circles have hinted at the growing frustration felt by some traditional employers towards the “Generation Y” age group – defined here as being those born from around 1990 on – who are often portrayed as being overdemanding and fickle workers.
“We’ve really started to notice how graduates coming through now are of a different generation,” says Georgina Kvassay, senior recruitment manager at “big four” accountant KPMG. “They don’t have this expectation of staying as long with an employer, of climbing this big long ladder. They want lots of different opportunities.”
Worryingly for large employers, a 2010 survey by recruiter Marks Sattin shows the suspicion is mutual, with only two in every five graduate accountants thinking it is still important to work for a traditional big employer. Why is this happening?
“The credit crunch has convinced Generation Y that being involved in big business is not necessarily something to be proud of,” believes Laura Wilson, Marks Sattin’s associate director of professional services. Another factor is what many employers now accept as the failure of traditional academic qualifications to reveal the aptitudes and characteristics that Generation Y can bring to the table.
Kvassay thinks it’s high time big employers started forcing themselves to engage with Generation Y much sooner. “No one has been doing much thinking about how we can manage them differently,” she admits.
But for many, that will not come naturally. Young voices tend not to be part of the decision-making processes of such organisations – in 2010, the average age of the 3,302 directors who sat on the FTSE 350′s boards was 58.
To redress the balance, we asked some of the UK’s brightest young business minds how they would run FTSE-listed companies differently if they could. Here’s what they had to say.
Harris Aslam 16
Studying for a BA in law at the University of Abertay, Dundee and a B&Q youth board member
There are over 1 billion people using Facebook today and technology is becoming a necessity in the everyday life of today’s youth. By not taking simple steps in rethinking their interactions with the next generation of shoppers, businesses can lose out on massive potential for new sales and profits. It’s extremely important to keep in sync with the youth of today.
Aaron Booth 17
A-level student at Liverpool Community College; also runs cake company The Cake Booth
There is a huge gap between big business and the young generation and it’s one that needs to be bridged for the benefit of both. Businesses need to better harness the energy and creativity young people have and give them opportunities they need. It’s often degree-educated students from affluent backgrounds who get the opportunities to pursue a career with the big firms. This is very unfair to young people who have the skills and talent but don’t have a degree. Some of the UK’s most successful business leaders, including Richard Branson and Alan Sugar, are non-graduates and I think firms are missing a trick, ignoring a large portion of young people with huge potential. If I was running a big company I’d work to be more inclusive and offer alternative career routes for young people from a range of social and academic backgrounds.
Adam Bradford 19
Runs IT agency Unitecomputing.com and is an ambassador for Peter Jones Enterprise Academies
The enterprising spirit is all about demonstrating a sheer competitive edge, being different and standing out from the crowd to innovate and succeed. It’s my belief, based on my work experience in corporate environments, that such companies are not flexible and creative enough to embrace an enterprising spirit. It is a case of following orders and operating within a set of given parameters.
Walking into a boardroom of a large global business, I would be ensuring that every day is more profitable than the last and that an enterprising, collaborative and innovative atmosphere is developed, breaking out from traditional corporate hierarchical structures of management.
Philip Bradonjic 22
Studying for a BSc in management at Warwick Business School
The most important aspect about a company, in fact about any organisation, is its culture. It influences employee actions, which in turn permeates into strategy and internal processes as well as supplier and customer relationships. So it also impacts ultimately on how a firm is perceived in public.
A strong culture has two positive effects. First, if employees identify with it, they are much more motivated, which translates directly into the quality of their work. Culture can also be a powerful tool in governing people’s decisions. For example, it provides a way to overcome people’s bias towards small short-term gains over larger long-term profits.
Abigail Brown 22
Studying for a BBA in management at Lancaster University Management School
The main challenge for any multinational corporation is not logistics, cultural differences or national regulations. It’s the issue of not logistics, cultural differences or national regulations. It’s how decisions made in the present will affect the marketplace of the future.
We can be so fixed on the here and now” that issues are overlooked, under-researched and deemed insignificant. In light of this, my advice would be to prioritise accountability.
Faced with growing pressure for short-term success, companies can lose sight of their impact on individuals, communities and nations.
When sustainability is mentioned in an organisational context, many would criticise its significance. However, as with any global issue, as with any global issue, it won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
So, what are you going to do about it?
Scale brings power, for the good and the bad. It can outplay laws and governments. Yes, the strategy is always to be profitable, but I would say to global companies: as role models and policy makers, what effect will the decisions you make have, and what response is the world going to throw back at you?
Lewis Cairns 21
Studying for a BA in management studies at Nottingham Business School
Most businesses haven’t realised one of the great skills of younger generations – managing information and communicating through technology. My generation is constantly connected to information and communicating with peers. Our brains have been trained to ingest, filter and process information from many sources quickly.
I believe accessibility of information will be vital for business in the future; they need to be preparing for employees who expect the same degree of connectivity within the workplace as they have outside.
From talking to managers, I think they see new graduates as different to themselves; they’re starting out with more self-confidence, stronger beliefs and, arguably, weaker organisational commitment than their managers.
Younger generations relish opportunities to learn, collaborate and share knowledge. We want the opportunity to learn and develop skills with older, experienced managers, but equally, older employees can learn about the social and technological changes that young people have matured with.
Darren Cope 21
Studying for a BA in management and