Digital natives vs Digital immigrants in a world ruled by technology
Robin Olivier, Managing Director at Apple Premium Reseller, Digicape - Apr 18th, 15:04
We’re all familiar with the term Baby Boomer (1946 – 1964), Gen X (1965 – 1976) and Gen Y (1977 – 1995) - with the latter more commonly known as the Millennial - and we have a basic understanding of each, but what happens when you group these generations together under one corporate roof in a world predominately ruled by technology?
Robin Olivier, Managing Director at Digicape, Apple Premium Reseller, says that at the risk of generalising, computers have been and remain to be foreign to Baby Boomers. Olivier explains, “The adoption of technology seems to be more out of sufferance than passion or desire. I suspect that not having the advantage of being part of this revolution during the peak learning years (19-20 years old) has been a big setback.” Olivier explains that the converse is true for Millennials. “They have grown up being surrounded by technology and digital devices from birth. I call this group “digital natives” because the learning curve has been through absorption rather than learning.”
When referring to his own generation (Gen X) and Baby Boomers, Olivier describes this group as ‘digital immigrants’ because, as he explains, the introduction of technology meant having to learn something completely new and foreign. “When I was in school computer class was often used as a chance to catch up on unfinished homework (or sleep), laughs Olivier. It was only after school that I really started to enjoy and understand the power of computers.”
The natural progression of technology for personal and home use was only made easy after the launch of Apple’s iLife suite (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and GarageBand) in 2002 touted the “Microsoft Office” for your home. This followed the introduction of smartphones. These handheld computers were revolutionised in January 2007 as Apple introduced iPhone and iOS (Apple’s operating system), catalysing an entirely new digital transition for digital immigrants to come to terms with.
In addition to a shift in personal use, this also leads to a new way of working. Today, the workplace consists of individuals from all walks of life. As a business owner, Olivier lists the possible pros and cons of each generation in terms of working style and ease of technological adoption.
• Vast amounts of industry knowledge
• An understanding of traditional processes and procedures
• Lack of passion for technology
• Highest cost of skills development
• Longer timeframe for adoption
• Change management
• Embraces and understands the need for technological advancements
• High cost of skills development in tech
• Change management
• High tech skill level
• Rate of adoption of new tech
• Frustration with standard communication processes (emails, etc.)
“There are many factors to consider when operating a business with a multi-generational staff contingent,” says Olivier.
Olivier explains, “The direct link between access to information and ability to learn is having a significant and unique impact. Millennials are constantly bombarded with information and coupled with the retention and understanding of this information results in an increase in the pace of change." Olivier adds, “This increase in the pace of change is becoming increasingly difficult for Baby Boomers and Gen X to be able to keep up with. The net result of this is that the world is becoming a Millennial world at an increasing rate – a transition which is faster than we have ever experienced before.”
Olivier provides guidelines as to how one should go about managing a diverse generational workforce:
1. There is no one-size-fits-all approach: Traditionally, Baby Boomers have shown a tendency to stay with a company for most of their working life. However, as the years progress, individuals are exposed to different upbringings and, Millennials in particular, tend to be more focused on making career moves that will accelerate their career growth at a more rapid pace. This often leads to what many term ‘job hopping.’
Olivier notes that there is no longer a traditional career path, “and in order to retain young talent, managers need to adjust development and training programmes to ensure there is regular growth and continuous career challenges.”
2. Difference in learning styles: Olivier has noticed that Millennials are constantly looking for clear, continuous feedback and structured reviews. This differs when it comes to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who are more familiar with a traditional work structure and work scope – often not requiring praise for a job well done. “Leaders in a business need to recognise that different review structures and management styles are necessary when introducing younger talent to the business,” says Olivier.
3. Be aware of the differences and embrace them: Olivier says that while Millennials are providing a fresh injection of ideas, creativity, and technological solutions, it does not mean that previous generations are no longer contributing to the company. “It needs to be made clear to employees where their strengths and weaknesses lie,” says Olivier. A Millennial will not have the industry knowledge compared to that of a Baby Boomer or Gen X individual, whereas a Baby Boomer might be lacking in technological adoption. “It is our job as leaders to ensure strengths and weaknesses are acknowledged and can be leveraged off one another,” says Olivier.
Olivier concludes that the only way that businesses will survive is to adapt to this new way of working and be flexible enough to respond to the inevitable rapid changes ahead.
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