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According to a report published last year by PwC, by 2020 the millennial generation will represent approximately half of the global workforce. The small study of graduates tries to paint a more vivid picture of what the world of work will look like in the coming decades as a new generation of tech-savvy individuals finish their studies and begin to enter into employment. In summary, the authors find that millennials “expect rapid progression, a varied and interesting career and constant feedback. In other words, millennials want a management style and corporate culture that is markedly different from anything that has gone before – one that meets their needs.”

The findings are somewhat to be expected. Most people would assume that any new generation entering the workforce would be more demanding than their forebears: the baby boomers wanted more freedom than the ‘silent’ generation; generation X called for more self-expression than the baby boomers; and now we have the millennials who are calling for even greater opportunities. Yet what makes the demands of the millennials perhaps slightly different from those of previous generations is that their expectations are not so easily accommodated by the unyielding organisational structures which are dominant within certain industries and organisations. This is particularly true of the public sector and civil service.

There is one line of the report which is rather telling: millennial workers “tend to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and turned off by information silos.” If rigidity is a turn-off for the next generation of high-fliers and graduates, what does this mean for the public sector where hierarchical working patterns are the defining characteristic of organisational structures? Judging by the responses to PwC’s survey, this may already be taking a toll on the ability of government and public service organisations to reach out to the new millennials. 11 per cent of the graduates who were interviewed said they wouldn't wish to work in this sector because of its image, a percentage that is only slightly below that of the oil, gas and defence industries (see graph below). How much of this is down to graduates’ perceptions of the public sector as a rigid place to work is not clear, but it wouldn't be surprising to find it's a major contributing factor.

Much of this makes intuitive sense. Millennials – and probably most white collar employees - would rather work in a dynamic, flexible organisation that allows them to flourish, be creative and have the freedom to work in their own way. As argued in a previous blog post, the UK appears to be transforming into a more entrepreneurial nation and people want a new way of making a living which runs in tandem with those aspirations. According to a rough and ready survey undertaken last year by Elance, 83 per cent of Millennials state that working independently or freelancing is a cornerstone of their career strategy. Likewise, according to research from Lloyds TSB, self-employment is becoming the reality for ever greater numbers of people. They estimate that of the 5.9 million home-based businesses currently operating in the UK, over a quarter were set up in the last year alone.

Anyone who falls into this category but for whatever reason can't work for themselves is still going to want to vent that entrepreneurial spirit in some way or another. The concern is that the kind of dynamic organisations where this is truly possible – those where hierarchy has been levelled and where people have the freedom, for instance, to run their own projects – are few and far between in the public sphere. How much this will impact upon both their recruitment and turnover of bright young graduates is still unclear, but it would be unwise for organisations in the public sector, the civil service in particular, not to take notice of the needs and aspirations of the thousands of new young employees who they envisage forming the bedrock of their organisations in the years to come.


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