The discussion about what the future generation will look like usually starts too early. Millennials were stereotyped before their feet hit the ground. The first generation with video games, home computers, the internet, and abundant television programming grew up in a way never seen before. Interest millennials had for these new media led pundits to label them as lazy. Why would a child stay in-doors and play on a TV screen when the sun is bright, and their friends are outside?
Ultimately, this was wrong. Millennials are no lazier than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Such projection about the personality of a generation tends to miss the actual factors impacting that generation’s personality and prosperity.It is not we who change with the socially constructed world, but it is that world which changes around us.
Baby Boomers are distinct from the Greatest Generation because of the rise of cars, suburbs, television, and telephones. Gen Xers splinter off from the Boomers with the tsunami of digitization during the 1980s and the demands for a more just society. Millennials differ because of internet integration and affection for video games. While Gen Z is the first to grow up never knowing a non-digital world, Millennials were the first to fully embrace that seismic shift.
Now, Generation Alpha is being examined. Cheap stereotypes will get us no understanding of who they are or will be. The best we can do right now is predict which of two pathways they will go down: staying the course or changing for the better. This new generation is the future of humanity, whether or not one is a parent to someone in Gen Alpha. We should care that they get the best opportunity and the most chances to fix the mistakes of the past. It is time to examine the possibilities of this upcoming generation.
Staying the Course
According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, young people that those under the age of 30 —constitute more than 50% of today’s global population. And it is projected that the figure will hit 75% by 2030. The business will always be changing, moving dynamically with the economy. A dance between economic demands and business goals pirouettes across the economy. Staying the course here does not mean business stagnation. New industries and products will be invented, new possibilities thought-up, and wrought into existence. Instead, staying the course here refers to continuing to treat employees as businesses do right now.
Low pay, little internal promotion, poor parental leave, poor childcare options, stodgy bureaucracies, rampant credentialism, and deceptive perk packages are what ails business today. These practices are bred out of a narrow-minded focus on short-term profitability. Even opposition to a $15/hr minimum wage – nothing staggering when compared with the past, adjusted for inflation – focuses solely on the short-term. Business needs consumers, and the more capacity they have to spend, the better the business does.
Right now, though, our businesses are designed for profit rather than humans. This may seem like a “duh” statement – companies’ natural goal is profit – but that attitude is a surprisingly new blight. There is no mutual-exclusivity between profit and human-based goals. In reality, the two synergize when examined in the long-term. Yet today’s practices are focused solely on profit.
Poor options for childcare leave each generation with a declining birth-rate. We expect mothers to be full-time employees and caretakers, but offer no pathway to make this possible. Business at present asks us to choose between having a family or a strong career. As it stands, this practice will discourage Gen Alpha from a fundamental aspect of humanity.
Demands that each new hire has a bachelor’s degree while not offering decreasing returns on investment for that degree stifles the entrepreneurial capacity of Gen Alpha. If they are burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt, how are they supposed to take on additional loans to start a business? A plethora of opportunities remain untapped, and increasing debt is a prime cause. This debt burden forces current college grads to focus only on stable jobs, not exploring the possibilities of starting something new.
Even as a new generation enters the workforce at existing companies, they face no prospect of worthwhile internal promotion. Only 20% of current mid- and upper-level positions are filled from within, with the remainder being hired from outside. This is compounded by companies offering only small pay increases for internal promotions, while an employee can look elsewhere for a large jump in salary. This squanders efficiencies in knowing a company’s work-flow and structure and destroys any sense of loyalty.
They determine what Generation Alpha will look like. Will they be required to attain a bachelor’s degree just to manage a gas station? Do they need massive student debt for a job that pays $40,000 a year? Will Generation Alpha be able to raise children cooperatively between the father and mother? Will their marriages are stable, or will they be strained by the demands of the office? Will, they truly see and grasp new opportunities, or will their entrepreneurial spirit be stifled?
Staying the course means Generation Alpha will not be like Gen Z or the Millennials. They will be left behind, forgotten. Their lifetimes will see the greatest social changes ever experienced by humankind, yet they will be ill-prepared. A business world that encourages debt, servitude, and long-hours without offering support for families and other key aspects of humanity will encourage an unhealthy embrace of new technology. It could lead to a generation of escapists, stuck in a world they have been made powerless to change. As long as the new generation is saddled with debt and absurd expectations, they will not meet their potential.
Changing for the Better
The adoption of several changes can avert this bleak world. Initiating the shift now, rather than later, will be more cost-effective and ensure the returns on these investments show up right on cue as Generation Alpha enters the workforce. Integrated training and education programs are by far the most important option for the future. IBM has found success in funding a five-year high school which graduates students with an associate’s degree and a job at the company. IBM can avoid paying $140,000 for the brightest tech minds while still getting exceptional workers, and the students can avoid mounds of debt. Even better, the workers are perfectly and directly trained for the needs of IBM. There is no doubt they will know how to do their job.
And expanding this kind of training, whether as sponsored education or through apprenticeships, is widely seen as one of the most critical changes to adopt going forward. It addresses the problem of student debt and skilled worker shortages by removing the mismatch in skills rampant in today’s workforce. Generation Alpha faces the possibility of an even worse mismatch if this is not adopted. The need for work in the future will continue to be more and more specialized.
Re-focusing work on output rather than hours worked will also become essential. When an employee can do as much work in 30 hours as the regular 40, simply due to the nature of fatigue, why keep them in the office for the extra 10? New systems are showing that this sort of shift may even increase productivity.
Alternatively, allowing employees to schedule four ten-hours days, or six seven-hour days can help them meet their desires and goals for life outside of the workplace. Fair compensation will be critical, as well. While schemes such as employer-provided health-insurance bring about efficiencies that allow companies to pay less and employees to have more value, these sorts of plans are not ideal in all areas. Many perks are ultimately offered to keep salaries and wages lower than they ought to be. It will always be the case that one of the prime factors an employee cares about is fair compensation, and they cannot take the job at the nicer office with a kombucha bar over the better-paying one if they struggle to make ends meet.
What it really means
All of these ideas, and all of the negative call-outs from before, dance around the real point here. Businesses need to be willing to adapt in an equitable way. They need to be willing to treat employees fairly rather than focus on stock-buy-backs and other non-investment behaviors. The only way to keep the economy robust is to invest in the future, whether through new projects or better employee training and compensation. These sorts of investments inevitably bring returns, even if it takes a decade to see them.
Adopting a human-centric attitude now will be more cost-effective and profitable than trying to catch up ten years from now. This sort of approach will ensure active participation from the next generation, and it will encourage them to grow to their full potential. That human-centric company is where Generation Alpha will want to work – whether those companies exist or not is up to business leaders of today.