The Mandate For Innovation: Preparing for the next generation workforce

The Mandate For Innovation: Preparing for the next generation workforce

Business is quickly facing a new set of expectations as the next generation grows up. It is within this environment that the mandate for innovation is at the forefront, not only in terms of future workers but workplaces as well. “Digital natives” as they are called—a term first used by Marc Prensky in 2001 to point out the failure of educators to understand the needs of modern students—don’t learn in traditional ways. They think and process information differently, often as a result of their daily interaction with technology. Today’s teens are growing up in a world where gaming, social connectivity and learning style are producing new ways of relating, behaving and functioning. While this trend might be curious and concerning to many adults inside and outside the workplace, it is a reality that employers will need to address. That’s because very soon these near-future workers, who thrive on innovation, will be making decisions about how, when, where and why to work.

Fidelity_Durham_286The New Look of Innovation What does innovation look like to the next generation of workers? Individuals entering the workforce in the next five to ten years will interact on a new level from previous generations. Involved with an expanding global community, they recognize no difference between physical and virtual interactions. For this reason, they prefer to communicate through technology, such as social media, video chats, and online forums. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows that 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily. Results from the same survey show teens use multiple social platforms and 71 percent use more than one social media site (May 13, 2016).

While social media plays a role in shaping future hires, the picture would not be complete without also addressing the increasing popularity of online gaming. Surveys indicate 81 percent of teens have access to a game console and 72 percent of all teens play video games on a computer, game console or portable device (Pew Research Center, August 6, 2015). Although this is considered an entertainment option, multiplayer online games are changing not only the way individuals learn, but also, what they are learning.

Gamers see their online time as their highest value and resent when that time is impeded upon by perceived time wasters like school, bedtime, dinner time and other routine activities. Digital natives are literally building their own learning experiences led by their gaming systems, online experiences, and their virtual social networks. They are not simply “gaming” as in wasting their time. They are learning strategic thinking, accounting, accountability to a team, leadership, strength-based management, motivational psychology, creativity and innovation, and a plethora of additional knowledge-based activities.

Characteristics of Future Workers Overall, social media and video game participants hone life-long skills and behaviors that transfer directly to business success. While no two individuals are identical, here are six characteristics of future workers that make them ideal candidates for the workplace:

  1. Global vision. Exposure to a variety of people, cultures, and ideas from around the world increase awareness, provide a broader, more inclusive, perspective.
  2. Team player attitude. Virtual connectivity provides ample opportunities to join numerous groups, experience the value of teamwork and actively participate in problem-solving scenarios.
  3. Strategy experience. Repeated online interactions help individuals perfect strategic planning skills.
  4. Multi-tasker proficiency. Studies indicate that 50 hours of experience on an action video game significantly improved performance on the Multi-Attribute Task Battery test, which is modeled after skills required in piloting aircraft (Chiappe, Dan, Mark Conger, Janet Liao, J. Lynn Caldwell, and Kim-Phoung L. Vu 2013. “Improving Multi-Tasking Ability through Action Videogames.” Applied Ergonomics 44:278–84).
  5. Leadership flexibility. Interplay in multiplayer games encourages situational acceptance of both leadership and follower roles.
  6. Strong sense of diplomacy. Gamers demonstrate competency by relating stories of successful battles and suggesting possible winning scenarios.


Implications for the Workplace As digital natives grow up, corporate innovation will become more essential in attracting and retaining exceptional workers. Innovation will take a variety of forms ranging from the way business relationships are structured to the opportunity for workers to contribute in non-traditional ways. With expanding social networks, online communities and crowd-sourcing increasing individual opportunities and choice, flexibility and creativity in appealing to the best and the brightest will set companies apart from the competition. Although salary and benefits will always be important, work fulfillment will become equally vital as workers find greater value in combining their skills, strengths and passions to create new high value work platforms that will compete directly with traditional business relationships. As such, here are some alternatives to traditional employee-employer relationships:

  • Expanded consultancy models;
  • Limited contracts and on-call service agreements;
  • Work in unison with other organizations to create shared workspaces that allow individuals to work independently with several companies;
  • Expanded virtual work opportunities within the company that utilize new forms of technology and increased co-work spaces, which will encourage new work behaviors between otherwise siloed employees;
  • Innovative benefit packages;
  • Customized workplace packages based on individual needs.


The lesson here is to avoid getting too comfortable with a single approach when recruiting the next generation of workers. Innovation at work is supported by innovation in work relationships. Companies that let go of traditional workspaces and HR principles face a brighter future in an increasingly competitive market.

The Workplace Matters

The workplace will matter to the next generation that is driven by the need for innovation. Already many corporate workplace teams are experimenting with agility in designs, providing various environments such as team zones and activity areas to encourage new behaviors and innovative business results from people working. Unfortunately, most of today’s workplaces remained relatively the same. The transition from assigned seating in cubes and offices, re-servable conference rooms for information gathering and dissemination, and break rooms for lunch are deeply ingrained in the expectation of today’s North American workforce. Hierarchical management practices continue to dominate the delivery of acceptable work results. And leadership attention to the value of workplace is minimal. Yet HR remains one of the most powerful and underutilized attraction and retention assets on a company’s balance sheet. Taking time now to consider the impact of digital natives has the potential to infuse new value into old paradigms of what is right and what is good in work.

As renown management consultant, Peter Drucker said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” In business, staying competitive in the future often demands rethinking standard procedures today. PM-ITM