What Millennials mean for the future of business?

Millennials seems to be the word on the tip of everyone’s tongues when it comes to business. A recent demographic trend, it best describes those professionals who were born in the mid-90s. The question everyone is asking is how will this new generation of young professionals contribute to our society: how will they change the business landscape? How will they interact with the existing workforce? How best can business leaders integrate them into the working community? These are questions that this blog will touch on, in order to get a better idea of what millennials mean for the future of business.

In Africa especially, the question concerning millennials is an important one. It is estimated that there are roughly 200 million people between the ages of 15 – 24 on the continent; what is referred to as a ‘youth bulge’. With such a vast population of young professionals entering or having recently entered the job market, it is important for business leaders to assess what roles millennials will have in relation to their companies. It is indeed a long game and leaders will have to begin thinking for long-term solutions regarding this demographic cohort. Leadership development programmes must begin early if leaders would like millennials to have a positive effect on productivity. Dr. Reuel Khoza, the President of the Institute of Directors of South Africa, was able to put this idea rather succinctly, “Millennials are the enemies of entropy”.

Integrated in the correct way, millennials should be the key for African businesses to avoid stagnation and to progress forward. Why is this the case though? Naturally as a younger cohort, millennials have had greater exposure to technological development as they were growing up. As more and more companies find their services moving towards the digital side, it is important to attract talent which can handle technology efficiently and proactively. In a recent survey carried out by PwC, the company found that African millennials, over all other millennials, felt most held back by rigid and outdated work-styles (75% versus 65% worldwide). Companies must therefore be in a position to hire employees which understand digital business systems.

A diverse workforce is always a good thing. As more and more companies on the continent are experiencing a multi-generational workforce, it is important that businesses use this diversity to their advantages; millennials bring different experiences to the table and different ways of thinking about interactivity and productivity. They are engaged and motivated to develop the business and expand globally and businesses must realise this and use this fact to their advantage.

Although motivated and engaged, it is also important to understand that retaining millennials talent remains one of the key challenges for businesses to combat. In the same survey by PwC as cited before, 49% of African respondents did not want to work in government and public services. This is a crushing blow of current governments if nearly half a generation is unwilling to work in the sector. This is a risk for all sectors and businesses must be aware of this fact: employer branding now has become a key issue. In order to attract and then, more difficultly, retain them, businesses must adapt to the changing professional demographics.

One of these changes, as many businesses on the continent will know well, is the fact that young professionals are more likely to move and look for jobs abroad. Through the Careers in Africa Employer of Choice survey, Global Career Company found that 90% of the 20,000 respondents wanted to work outside of their home country. This is a heavy blow for businesses looking to retain such talent which brings back the problem of millennial talent retention. Please see the article on the best ways to retain millennial talent for further details on how to tackle this problem.

It is an exciting time for business in Africa. As shifts begin to be seen in the professional landscape, companies must learn to adapt to these changes. As multi-generational workforces become more and more common, companies on the continent will have to learn the best strategies to ensure collaboration between generations with entirely different educational and technical predecessors.