Workforce 2020: Oxford Economics’ Shows The Future’s Not So Scary After All

I’ve been waiting for this study to go public in order to talk about it, and it hasn’t been easy. Workforce 2020 is a global survey on the future of the workplace — and the workforce — conducted by Oxford Economics for SAP. In the second quarter of 2014, OE surveyed more than 2,700 executives and 2,700 employees from 27 countries on a wide range of subjects, everything from talent and leadership development to technology and data.

What are we most concerned with going forward? What are our strengths, and what are our weaknesses? The SAP study confirms that among the top trends having an impact of on workforce strategy:

• Number one is the tide of millennials entering the workforce

• Number two is the globalization of labor supply

• Number three is the difficulty in recruiting workers with base level skills.

The findings are meant to help us prepare for the nature of the 2020 workforce, which will be more global, more diverse, filled with more millennials, and more reliant on tools like analytics and cloud-based technology. Nothing really new, though OE’s research shows key gaps between those distinctions and just what we’re doing to adapt to them: only a third (34%) of the 2,700 executives surveyed think they’re making progress in creating a workforce that will meet future business goals.

But what I find more interesting is a gap that’s more like a non-gap: the assumed gulf between the attitudes and values of the millennials versus the nonmillennials. As it turns out, GenY is generally not all that different in what they value in work.

The gist of our millennial misunderstanding is that we assume that, as keyed in and digitally fluent as they are, millennials don’t necessarily, well, care the way you might think. But as the OE suvey shows, that’s not entirely the case. The numbers challenge our assumptions on millennial workplace values.

When millennials and nonmillenials were asked what was important to them in work:

• 20% of both cited making a positive difference in the world.

• 68% of millennials compared to 64% of nonmillenials cited compensation as important.

•  29% of millenials and 31% of nonmillennials cited a work-life balance (and I’d argue that a two percent difference may simply be a natural correlation to one’s perspective changing with time, versus some kind of behavioral correlation to a generation who texts first, asks later).

• 32% of millennials and 30% of nonmillennials listed meeting their income goals as important.

• And meaningful work was cited as important by 14% of millennials compared 18% of nonmillennials. (Again, is that simply the nature of age talking, not instagram? When you were still wet behind the ears, did you truly understand what meaningful work might be?)

The biggest distinction — all of four percentage points — is over compensation and meaningful work. Who wants to get left out of this equation? I would hope nobody. But in terms of perspective and basic core values, these findings show there is far less of a difference that some people may have assumed. Considering that the influx of millennials coming into the workforce is the Number One concern in business today, that’s just a bit reassuring. And considering their ease with tech and data; their comfort with mobile and their savvy with social media — skills which are seeing tremendous growth in the workforce, particularly over the next three years. I think we’re in good hands. And I think this should be noted for every single generation. Innovate or simply be left behind. The time is now.

photo credit: *katz via photopin cc

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