I’m visiting my parents’ house this weekend. In preparation, last night, I charged my iPhone, iPad, Macbook, Kindle and digital camera. I’ll be there for less than two days, and they have all the same technology, but to go there without this full tech package each time doesn’t seem plausible. Each serves a different function, and while millennials are arguably too plugged in, constantly having technology is important to my generation. Of course, this isn’t true for all, but while I don’t consider myself tech savvy at all, I’m still very dependent on these tools, and I’m not alone.

Carolyn April, director of industry analysis for CompTIA.

Last month, nonprofit IT trade association CompTIA released findings from its Generational Research on Technology & Its Impact in the Workplace study that revealed 67 percent of millennials judge their employers based on their technological savvy. While I wasn’t surprised that technology is so important to Gen Y, I was curious as to how this compared to the other three generations in the workforce. I interviewed Carolyn April, director of industry analysis for CompTIA, who shared some surprising facts with me. For example, while on average millennials use more and demand more technology than boomers, younger workers are more likely than older to identify their company as on the ball when it comes to technology at work. Six in 10 Gen Y workers gave their employers net positive ratings, compared with just 31 percent of baby boomers. April dissected what this means for employers and how it’s affecting learning.

Let’s talk about some of your findings regarding millennials and technology.

April: Like prior generations, millennials are ambitious and desirous of a job that offers opportunities for career progression and personal growth. There are, however, a few notable differences between the generations that employers should be aware of.

Gen Y workers are confident in their technology skills. Two-thirds say when it comes to the use of tech, they’re either “cutting edge” or in the upper tier. By comparison, more than half of baby boomers — 53 percent — place themselves in the middle tier when it comes to use of technology.

Social media is another area where the generations differ. Social media has blurred the lines between work and personal lives for many Gen Y workers. Though the majority of all employees we surveyed — 64 percent — believe that social media had adversely affected productivity at work, Gen Y and Gen X workers feel that their social media savvy is an important part of their skill set for work when compared to baby boomer employees.

Facebook is one example. Among younger workers, nine out of 10 use Facebook, with 39 percent of 20-somethings and 36 percent of 30-something workers using the social network for both work and personal purposes. Just one in five baby boomers does so.

Younger workers see social media access at work as a given; 20-somethings are least likely to agree with restrictions and follow the company line when it comes to restricted social media use. Similarly, 36 percent of Gen Y workers feel that they currently do not have access to certain social tools that they need to do their jobs effectively.

In terms of device usage, our study found relative ubiquity across all generations of workers with regard to the mainstays of the workplace: desktop PCs — used in the past year by 79 percent of those surveyed; printers — 74 percent; and laptops — 64 percent.

Usage differences emerge across generations, job roles and gender when talking about devices that fall into the “newer” categories. Tablets, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS devices fall into this bucket.

When asked about using a smartphone for work purposes, 74 percent of Gen Y workers said they did so in the last 12 months, compared with 37 percent of baby boomers. Workers in their 30s, 40s and 50s were also slightly more likely than the youngest workers to use a landline telephone or a standard cellphone for work in the last year. In fact, just 6 percent of 20-something employees conducted business on a standard cellphone, illustrating just how pervasive and essential the smartphone has become.

With regard to software, Microsoft Office applications remain a juggernaut in today’s workplace. Nearly nine in 10 workers used Word in the past year; another seven in 10 are on the Excel bandwagon; and half created presentations or charts in PowerPoint. These percentages hold across workers in all age groups. The lone exception: PowerPoint saw greater usage among 20- and 30-somethings by double or more than older workers.

That said, younger workers were twice as likely to have used an alternative word processing or productivity application, such as Google Docs or Zoho, than those age 40 and up.

Generational differences also are apparent with respect to new forms of communication. Text and instant messaging are more commonly used for work purposes among individuals who are less than 50 years old.

Younger workers are also more open to using a variety of emerging means to get the IT support they need. Instant messaging and the use of mobile apps to resolve IT issues are most popular.

What does millennials’ perception of this technology mean for their current and potential employers?

April: Many employers are already meeting the expectations of millennials. When asked to assess their employer, workers we surveyed gave relatively high remarks in the area of technology utilization. Roughly half described their employer as either “cutting edge” or in the “upper tier”’ in their use of technology, while slightly less — 42 percent — put their companies somewhere in the middle of the adoption curve. Just 11 percent placed their employer on the low side of tech savvy and use.

Younger workers are more likely than older to identify their company as on the ball when it comes to technology at work. Six in 10 Gen Y workers gave their employers net positive ratings, compared with just 31 percent of baby boomers.

Younger workers have grown up in an era where flexibility is the norm. This is reflected in their thinking that companies that do not offer a telecommuting option are old-fashioned. Previous CompTIA research found that 18 percent of companies allowed telecommuting for all employees; and 43 percent for some positions. About one in four companies did not allow telecommuting.

Gen Y employees value flexibility and want to work for companies that offer the option to telecommute. For many younger workers, the work-life balance is more likely to take precedence over any other factor, including, in some cases, compensation. Some say they’re even willing to consider a lower salary if that benefit is provided

The majority of Gen Y workers also want an arrangement that features some days in the office and some days at home. The balance in this arrangement is more days in the office. Forty-nine percent of respondents prefer to work in the office three or four days a week.

How does this impact their learning and development tactics?

April: Even with their confident opinions of their tech readiness, millennials are still hungry for more learning. Our survey revealed that 20-something workers participated in voluntary training at a higher rate than any other age group. Three in 10 sought out training on their own compared with an average of two in 10 across other age groups.

E-learning is especially appealing to Gen Y workers, who tend to want to be autonomous in how they choose to interact with technology, deciding their own pace and not being forced to interrupt normal workflow to “take the training.” Our survey found 45 percent of Gen Y workers used e-learning in the last year.

What steps can learning leaders take to remain competitive in this environment?

April: Looking ahead, younger generations are increasingly interested in expanding how they receive training to include more progressive means such as social media elements, more mobility elements and simulations/gaming type constructs.

Nearly half of workers in their 20s and 30s said the use of mobility and social media as platforms for professional development and training would be beneficial. Likewise, more than a third of this group wants to train via simulation-type games that are increasingly popular interactive tools used for training of all types of business, from leadership training for executives and managers to technical skills training. By contrast, just 8 percent of baby boomers cite more gaming elements as a potentially useful resource.

The adage that every person learns differently is greatly amplified in a multigenerational workplace. Managing across many age groups is no small feat for companies when you consider the differences in skills sets, work habits, employer loyalty and preferences for the types of technology tools they use. At the end of the day, though, the employer has to stay true to its corporate culture and values when hiring millennials or any other generation.

Ladan Nikravan

Ladan Nikravan

Ladan Nikravan is a senior editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She is from Chicago and graduated from the University of Missouri School Of Journalism, where she majored in magazine journalism. Prior to joining MediaTec, Ladan worked as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian newspaper, Vox magazine, Chicago Home Improvement magazine and American Builders Quarterly. Although a writer at heart, she has dipped her toes into most facets of the publishing world: feature writing, hard news and column writing; freelancing; copy editing; page design; Web design and some photography. She can be reached at lnikravan@CLOMedia.com.
Ladan Nikravan

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