Leading in a 4G talent economy

Written by
Kirstie Donnelly
City & Guilds Group

27 Mar 2018

27 Mar 2018 • by Kirstie Donnelly

Embrace your multi-generational workforce and the knowledge-sharing it enables, advises City & Guilds Group's Kirstie Donnelly.

Does a 4G benefit or hinder businesses? 

A 4G workforce refers to four generations of people employed simultaneously. In fact, recent Barclays research suggested there are up to five generations all working together.

This brings challenges and opportunities and one of the main benefits of an age-diverse workforce is the different skills each generation brings to the business. An older worker will have experience in dealing with people, whereas a younger employee might bring digital expertise. CIPD research, Managing an agediverse workforce: employer and employee views, showed that both employees and HR professionals feel knowledge sharing is a core benefit of an age-diverse workforce.

What also shone through in the CIPD research is that employees are often willing to embrace age diversity. A third of the employees didn’t see any challenges with working across generations but felt managers were not promoting enough team working across age groups. 

Is there a disconnect between generations in the workplace?

In 2017, the City & Guilds Group conducted research among a group of workers aged 18-30, and another group aged 50-plus, to understand their perceptions of each other and challenges to working together. Both groups identified similar traits in one another; for example, younger workers were perceived by both as tech-savvy and enthusiastic, and older workers as having the right experience and being skilled and hard-working.

Around two-thirds of respondents preferred working with different age groups to working purely with people of their own age, but wanted training in working effectively across generations. This chimes with the CIPD research and shows a need for employers to support people in sharing their skills and experiences.

Where there is perhaps a disconnect between generations is in their needs to balance home and work life: younger workers might not have the childcare or caring responsibilities of those later in their careers. Employers should ensure they are not creating two-tier workforces without equal experiences and opportunities.

Are businesses focused on helping younger workers?

Our research shows that older workers feel they are given less opportunity for career progression or support than younger colleagues. Only a third said they regularly discuss career progression with their managers, compared with almost two-thirds of younger respondents.

When we asked both age groups about the government’s emphasis on supporting people into employment, older and younger workers agreed that policies are too focused on helping young people into work to the detriment of older workers. This perception may shift as we see the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy which encourages apprenticeships at all ages.

Remember that for the past 20 years, young people have been encouraged to go to university, despite evidence that by 2030 only 30% of jobs will be at graduate level. Ineffective careers advice and the pace of technological change has widened the gulf between education and employment, requiring a focus on supporting young people into the workplace. Now is the time to re-look at the needs of the whole workforce throughout their careers. 

What skills will organisations require in the years to come? 

Employers should help all employees navigate and thrive in a digital world. BITC reported recently that 62% of over 50s had not received any training in computer skills, a problem even more pronounced among women and manual workers.

Older workers also feel less informed about how technology and automation might affect them. There are great examples of companies such as Microsoft running reverse mentoring schemes to pass on digital skills to older workers who, in turn, share their leadership experiences.

Another essential skill is adaptability. The job for life is gone and people are often expected to change roles, companies and even countries many times. We might think that younger people are more adaptable and open to change, when in fact older workers have weathered huge changes in the workplace, not least the introduction of the computer.

Emotional intelligence and the ability to connect with people is a skill that cannot (yet) be replicated by robots and is often developed through experience. PwC’s report, Will robots steal our jobs?, showed that professions requiring a higher degree of social skills are less likely to be automated, and older workers have a role to play in sharing their related experiences and expertise. 

How do you role model this within your businesses?

Education tends to employ a range of ages and our organisation has a relatively age-diverse workforce. We have tried to create an environment where working remotely and flexibly is the norm and we support carers returning to work or requiring flexible arrangements.

Age diversity can be a problem at the younger end of the spectrum but through our commitment to apprenticeships, work experience and internships, we are bringing in more young people – which helps us understand the needs of those we serve.  

What are your expectations around skills in the future economy? 

It appears that the skills currency will keep rising in value. In the UK, Brexit means entire industries need to develop home-grown skills. The international movement of labour also shows no sign of halting and while destinations vary, employers are recruiting from a global talent pool.

There is also the issue of skills underutilisation, demonstrated in this country through low productivity. Unemployment is high, but underemployment is common too and many people are in roles for which they are underqualified. Leaders need to make use of employees’ skills to support business performance. 

How can leaders prepare for the future of work?

for the future of work? Embrace change – technology is breaking down our traditional understanding of the workplace and we are seeing the rise of flexible and remote working, and the gig economy – and diversity, to gain better ideas, asking yourself how you can bring in a bigger pool of talent or make better use of existing talent.

Never stop learning. Great leaders will drive a culture of innovation and curiosity by encouraging others and making sure that they themselves are seen to be continually learning. They will take risks, investing in new technology and recognising great ideas, wherever they come from in the organisation. 

City & Guilds Group