The mistake made by nearly 1 in 3 millennial managers

jenga-tower-mistake

Younger enterprise managers are far more likely than their older counterparts to understand the need for workplace flexibility and the value of leveraging the skills of freelance professionals.

A survey commissioned by freelance website Upwork of more than 1,000 U.S. hiring managers shows that nearly three-quarters (74%) of millennial/Generation Z managers supervise workers who spend a significant portion of their time doing their jobs remotely, versus 58% of baby boomer managers. The implication here is that younger managers are more likely than older managers to allow and encourage employees to do their jobs away from the office, as long as those jobs get done.

Likewise, 41% of millennial/Gen Z managers say they’ve made progress in developing an “agile” talent strategy (relying heavily on freelance and temporary workers), versus only 24% of boomer managers. This progress is borne out in another statistic from the survey: One half of millennial/Gen Z managers say they’ve increased their use of freelancers over the past three years, more than twice as many as boomer managers (23%).

If your goal is to create a more agile and flexible organization, these numbers are encouraging, especially since nearly half (48%) of younger-generation managers already are director-level or higher. As Upwork notes, millennial/Gen Z enterprise leaders “see the need for better access to rapidly changing skills and constant reskilling.”

But I’d say there’s a bright red flag in Upwork’s survey: 32% of younger managers believe workers should be responsible for proactively reskilling themselves, versus only 12% of boomer bosses.

I wholeheartedly agree that people need to take charge of their destinies in the workplace of the future. In fact, I’m constantly preaching that in this blog. You have to be in a mode of constant learning or you’ll get left behind.

However, there is a shortage of skills spanning all kinds of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, extended reality, predictive analytics, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, 3D printing, blockchain … I could go on for awhile. If the skills and knowledge your organization needs aren’t out there, should you wait around for people to train themselves up? You could, but you might be waiting awhile.

What would be wiser is to 1) invest in the development of those skills in your workforce and 2) hire people who currently might not have the skills and/or knowledge for the positions in question, but are trainable. When I switched from newspaper journalism to tech writing more than 20 years ago, I knew next to nothing about enterprise technology. But the tech publication that hired me (Network World) believed it was far easier to teach someone who already knows how to write about technology than it was to teach a hard-core techie with no discernible writing skills how to craft a quality article.

While I sorely tested this theory for about six months, the point is that Network World was willing to make an investment in developing talent and skills. And it generally paid off. Sure, some writers and editors who benefited from this training eventually took their skills elsewhere, but then the hiring/training process would begin again. It was treated as a cost of doing business that paid off over time.

Here’s another somewhat timely example: Every year the National Football League holds a draft of college players. Only a small percentage of the players drafted come into the league with NFL-ready skills and knowledge. They’re really drafted for their potential, and once they’re on a team roster, it’s up to the coaches to teach them how to read a zone coverage or sniff out a screen play.

Once their rookie contracts are up, many NFL players sign as free agents with other teams. Does that mean the team they left wasted money on them? Sometimes! Seriously, though, the answer is no: Their team had a goal — to win– and invested resources in achieving that goal. In fact, teaching players how to do their jobs better is the key to success in the NFL (though drafting well helps). Just look at the New England Patriots. Like them or hate them, no one coaches up players better than Bill Belichick.

Hopefully more younger managers will recognize that enterprises have a vested interest in developing talent, whether it takes the form of paying for classes or training on the job. Those that wait around for people to upskill themselves will be putting their organizations at a serious disadvantage.

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