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Mr. Schubach

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

The Torch is Passed to the Millennial Generation

By Michael Schubach, Strategic Deployments / Program Management Director, Infor Hospitality

There was a time during the tumultuous 60s and 70s that the younger generation was admonished to "never trust anyone over thirty." You may have heard that quote - it was made a cultural touchstone by the likes of luminaries such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Beatles. (Note: members of the younger generation who don't understand those references should consult the Internet and the iTunes store.) Today, members of the older generation seem to apply the opposite perspective - it's hard to trust anyone under thirty. Employers talk about a new generation of workers with a "me first" mentality who place more value on their own entertainment than on company loyalty and work output. They value travel experiences and cultural interaction, and want to see and meet the world on their own terms, by non-conventional methods and alternative choices.

The Millennial generation has been raised like no other before it. Its membership has been electronically educated, babysat, monitored, befriended and networked, with all the inherent advantages and drawbacks that represents. It's how they read, think and interact - or not, as the case may be. They place more value on a 'like' from their tribe (48%) than from Madison Avenue hype (17%). If you can't cater to, entertain or amuse them, you ought not to count on their patronage. They are contradictory, but they have our complete attention. And there are many good reasons for that - they are set to rule the world.

But before we leap to a conclusion, let's start with an introduction. To me, the foundational question is not so much what a millennial is, but rather how we define "generation." The simplistic answer, of course, is that a generation is the reproductive cycle that separates you from your parents, and them from theirs, et cetera, et cetera; then, now and forever, world without end. However, historians, sociologists and statisticians - those who divide us into categories and give us our pithy nomenclature - look for more tangible definitions. Historians define a generation as a span of thirty years, since that's the approximate time it takes an average person to pass from birth to adulthood and generate children of their own. Sociologists want to link people together who live through common cultural experiences, such as the "Pepsi Generation," or those who still recall where they were the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Statisticians tend to look at key performance indicators (to borrow a phrase from the software industry) such as per capita birthrates, in order to detect ebb and flow and to aggregate us into the demographic groups that separate the clusters from the outliers.

Favoring the historian's perspective is a bit of a challenge. Even if we accept the arbitrary thirty-year duration, we still struggle with appropriate keystone starting dates. Every so often the world provides us with some convenient coincidences that serve as memorable lines of demarcation. Take, for example, the end of the last world war and the population surge resulting from… well, let's call it the "process of reunification." Presto: Baby Boomers. 1945 is a relatively clear line in the sand that intersects nicely with the coincidental overlay of the introduction of large-scale computing in big business sectors, heralding the early dawn of the Information Age. In that case, we hit the trifecta: an historical date of widespread renown, significant social trends and impacts, and more statistical data than we could handle.

Even so, determining generations is an imperfect science. I come from a large enough family that I have older siblings who are technically classed as Boomers, and younger ones who are Gen-Xers. I'd be interested in hearing a sociologist explain to one set of parents how they managed to give birth to two separate generations.

Since the Boomer generation, time lines have become just that much murkier and harder to define. We live in an unparalleled age of widespread, high velocity technical and social change. Assisted by a worldwide mass media / informational network, social change takes place on a global scale and an hour-by-hour basis. In earlier times, it was easier to define a social generation, or even to class multiple generations together into an 'age' or 'era.' Now, from the social perspective, thirty years isn't a lifetime, it's two or three.

Nonetheless, the world has now taken advantage of the infrequent but memorable event of having a year that ends in three zeroes. That was more than enough motivation to declare a new generation. The facts and figures I quote derive from a definition of 'Millennials' as those who were born between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 2000. This span shortens the historical definition of a generation by a decade, but let's accept that modification and examine the data. Here are some interesting statistical insights:

  • By the numbers, there are more than 85 million Millennials in the United States, and more than 2.9 billion worldwide. They will be more than 50% of the worldwide workforce by the year 2020, and more than 75% by 2030.

  • Millennials comprise the most ethnically and racially diverse generation the world has produced. (Thank you, mass transportation and tourism.)

  • Millennials are less nationalistic and more globalized in their perspectives and attitudes. (Thank you, mass media.)

  • Perhaps the reason that the world cares so about Millennials: they have more spending power that any other age demographic.

  • They embrace an online lifestyle, social connectivity and brand loyalty (77%). To win them over to your product or service, you must woo and win their social tribe, but once you do they remain fiercely loyal.

  • Millennials are not only increasing the demand for advanced technology, but are also changing the style of interaction, and therefore the business models that underpin those interactions. Remember when 'cotton was the fabric of our lives'? Now it's the Internet. Millennials prefer self-directed research, unimpeded around-the-clock access and rapid fulfillment. You know, all the characteristics of compulsive behaviors linked with shortened attention spans. Like it or not, Millennials have the clout to change the way the world will behave and how it will staff to do business; only the smart will survive.

If all that is the good news, the news is not all good for the up and coming generation. Millennials are at the head of the line of a generational parade that will be working under new paradigms well beyond those that they themselves impose.

Our national mindset is warming quickly to the concept of driverless vehicles, a change being enabled by advances in artificial intelligence software and robotic mechanization, the disciplines that power such advanced technology. Change is coming at a lightning pace, thanks to the financial contributions and engineering advancements from corporations that include the likes of Daimler AG and Piaggio Fast Forward, a division of Vespa's parent company. This change is not coming because of slick technology, a vision of a life of ease, or George Jetson envy. It's coming because the business community understands the economics of unattended transportation. It may be admirable to improve efficiency and reduce injury and death, but it's cheaper to lower the costs associated with employee wages and insurance (both health and liability). Driving stakeholder value drives our economy, and going driverless meets that imperative.

Is there any downside to this improvement? Yes - humankind is poised to launch an Age of Robotics that stands to either revolutionize the workplace or throw that workplace into armed revolution. A column in The Guardian (referenced by Business Insider, Rob Price, Dec. 2, 2016) quotes Stephen Hawking: "We are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity…" and "the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend the destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining."

Professor Hawking is not the only source to weigh in on future possibilities. In December 2016, President Obama's White House published an executive report on Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy. Among those findings:

  • 2.2 - 3.1 million car, bus and truck driving jobs will be eliminated by the advent of self-driving vehicles.
  • 83% of the jobs paying less than $20/hour are subject to automation or replacement.
  • 9% - 47% of jobs could be made irrelevant due to technological change, with the worst threats falling among the less educated.

In February 2017, The Sunday Times, London, published similar findings. In an article entitled "Robots March on 'Safe' Jobs of the Middle Class," the Times observed, "…while low-skilled jobs are the most exposed to automation over the forthcoming decades, a substantial number of middle-income jobs are equally at risk." Agreeing with the 47% estimate for the US, they pegged the impact in the UK as 35% of the jobs that pay £40,000 per year; again, roughly the $20 per hour mark used by the White House report. We have long foreseen that the future was going to be tough on the under-educated, but we have done nothing to make real higher education more affordable. Now the risk extends deep into what little is left of our middle class. We are staring down the barrel of the future while we desperately cling to traditional solutions that seemed to do the job for the last century.

So that I am not mistaken for a glass-half-empty pessimist, I call on future historians to remind our children and children's children not to take the situation personally. It will not be the first time that the world eliminates jobs in favor or strange or fearsome alternatives. Agriculture was the world's largest occupation from the dawn of civilization until the late nineteenth / early twentieth century. We found other employment for the displaced in unimagined new enterprises and we'll do it again.

What makes this time different is our personal involvement and subjectivity - it's happening to us, our children and people we know or see on television. The trick is to not cling to a failing status quo, or seek refuge in a previous century. To master change, you have to lean into it.

Estimates of displacement and unemployment that range to 50% are astounding; compare that to the 30% unemployment that the US suffered in 1930-32 at the height of the Great Depression. It's a sobering prediction - one that shouldn't be ignored even now - so let's not. We may not know precisely what this brave new world holds in store, but the most plentiful and resourceful generation the world has ever produced is on the rise. It's time to trust the future to everyone under thirty.

Michael Schubach, CHTP, CHAE, has more than thirty years of Hospitality industry experience and is currently the Strategic Deployments and Program Management Director at Infor. Previously, Mr. Schubach was an industry writer and consultant working with many different organizations to develop strategies and content across the industry – from vendors to small and large hotel properties in North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Mr. Schubach has also held the positions of Vice President of Product Management at Agilysys, Chief Information Officer at Trump Hotel Collection, Vice President of Resort Technology at Pinehurst Resort, and Vice President of Technology at Computerized Lodging.Systems. Mr. Schubach can be contacted at 646-336-1700 or michael.schubach@infor.com Please visit htttp://infor.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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