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It is better
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John Sumser

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Goin' Mobile
(August 1, 2003) - 
The average American is working one month (160 hours) more each year than a generation ago. The promise of a 35 hour work week, hot on the lips of 1970's vintage economists has faded. The additional workload, which runs across the economy from the office worker to the manufacturing line, seems to be a function of the cost of benefits. The regulations make it cheaper to add workload for existing employees than to hire new players. 

In other words, there is little room to solve the impending demographic changes by working the existing team harder.

The new generation of workers (citizens between 16 and 30) have grown up in an environment in which both parents work long hours. Family life for them was very different from the experience of their baby-boomer managers (or managers to be). They are a ruggedly independent lot who took a larger share of the chore of raising themselves than their parents did. Divorce is as normal as the personal reinvention that accompanies marital breakdown. Networks of peers play a larger role in the determination of social reality in substitution for the family backbone of an earlier generation.

The music is different too. If you can find a crack in the radio broadcasts that are still dominated by baby boomer oldies and trans-generational pap, you'll hear the throbbing beats where hip-hop and ambient music intersect. Mainstream youth culture, often hidden behind bedroom doors, is politer than it was a generation ago. That means that it is harder to see. The kids work hard to reach out culturally to their hardworking parents knowing that the realities  of their world might be offensive.

It's a network generation with networking tools. They've paid the price of parental layoffs and diminished company loyalty. They are simultaneously more cynical, more disciplined and quicker to learn. They work for meaning first and money second.

These are the people who are the foundation for the next workforce. They may not buy the existing 'paradigm'. They may well value their time in the same way that we expect from our executives. They may not buy dress codes and behavioral constraints that extend beyond the consensual reality of the workplace. They are certainly more mercenary.

The value of deep college recruiting is that it offers the enterprise an opportunity to witness this phenomenon first hand. The few companies that have experimented with high-school level outreach (in anticipation of the looming shortage) have discovered a powerful gap between the realities of today's work world and the expectations of the new workforce. The boomer focused media, from newspapers to think tanks, have done little to illuminate the problem.

A good start to thinking about the problem might begin with a look at Mobile Youth, a European consulting firm focused on the fact that this new generation is cell-phone equipped. Their statistics and survey data focus on the explosive growth of cell phone and text messaging services in the demographic. Ask yourself, "What is the difference between a workforce that arrives with its own phones and one that doesn't?"

John Sumser

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