Chris McGuganMay 22, 2019

College Grads vs. Employers: Who’s Really Underprepared?

Tassels have been turned and the sounds of “Graduation March” have echoed across campuses. A new crop of college grads will soon be planted in the workforce, and they say they’re ready. A study of last year’s grads conducted by the National Association of Colleges, for example, found that most feel competent in areas of professionalism, work ethic, communication and critical thinking. Only about half of surveyed employers, on the other hand, agreed.

Instead of subscribing to the typical narrative of overconfident students and dubious employers, I’m going to offer an unpopular opinion: companies need to understand, and adapt to, the expectations and work preferences of millennials to unlock their commitment and engagement (and, ultimately, mind-blowing transformation).

Think about it: we live in a world of relentless innovation that’s moving us forward faster than ever. We’re harnessing the power of new technologies for creatively filling skills gaps, innovating products and services, and differentiating market positioning. Companies across every vertical, large and small worldwide, are feeling the immense pressure of digital transformation to improve processes, reduce risks and deliver more intelligent experiences that matter. Everything we’ve known about how businesses work has been flipped on its head. The same goes for how people work.

The growth of smart technologies like robotics, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence has permanently altered the nature of work. As opposed to when their predecessors entered the workforce, today’s younger employees want things like greater process automation and more personalized communications that fit how they work. They’re nearly eliminating the distinction between corporate and personal technology while introducing new ways of thinking and behaving across the organization.

But is this a bad thing? Does this make them ill-prepared for the workforce? Today’s most successful companies prove that it absolutely does not.

Consider Google, which ranks as one of the top companies that millennials want to work for. First-year engineers start at an incredible salary with 15 days of paid time off, which jumps to 20 days after three years and 25 after five years. At any point in time, anyone can take an unpaid three-month leave of absence (ideal for the experience-driven millennial). Free meals and snacks are available in-office and there are on-site gyms at certain locations. Employees in certain offices like San Francisco can also bring their pets to work.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes as you read this. I get it. But it’s not just pandering to a young and seemingly entitled generation of 20-somethings. It’s smart. It’s strategic. Google and a handful of other digital leaders like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple (coincidentally those making the most money and power plays) get it. The more you blur the lines between the workspace and the consumer space, the more incentive employees have to show up and show out. The more committed they’ll be to driving incredible customer and business outcomes. The more immersed they’ll feel in their roles and ability to impact lasting change.

So, is the question that millennials are underprepared for the workforce or that employers aren’t ready for the future of work?

I don’t think many have fully grasped what this new reality of work looks like; one that requires a paradigm shift in the ways that work-life balance, corporate culture, and competitive perks are perceived. Not only do I think businesses (particularly, large enterprises) are unprepared for this new reality of work, they’re scared of it. And that’s perfectly okay to admit. It’s scary as hell when you think about it. It brings a great deal of uncertainty and “what ifs” to the traditional workplace that can make any business leader feel on edge.

But here’s the thing: the world is radically changing whether we like it or not. To keep pace, employers need high performers who are willing to push boundaries and think differently to achieve breakthrough change; people who are unafraid to try new things and continually learn. As I always say, things never-before-seen require things never-before-done. Organizations need to foster an environment of adaptability, flexibility and ingenuity for this unique generation to thrive. Otherwise, in the words of Albert Einstein, they will be the fish that is judged by its ability to climb a tree. And that is a recipe for disaster.

So, to every employer combing through this year’s fresh crop of college grads, I say this: don’t be afraid to throw out the rulebook. Get rid of perfectionism in professionalism. Give employees space and freedom they need to create the kind of change you need for success. Try new things out. Take the handcuffs off your existing business model and play around with it.

This is going to be an interesting decade for enterprises with the rise of millennial workers. In the end, it comes down to prioritizing the experience of each individual employee. Think outside of what you’ve been doing for so long and focus simply on giving employees the tools, resources, and environment they need to do what they do best.

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Chris McGugan

Chris leads Avaya's technology strategy development to guide future investments. His focus is on assessing customer needs, market trends and how new and emerging technologies can drive value and improved customer experience as part of the digital transformation in communications that Avaya is leading.

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