Generation Y forced to get real

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 March, 2010, 12:00am

Amusement and amazement were probably the most common reactions of Hongkongers who came across a recent article in the Journal of Management. It outlined, based on lengthy research into the attitudes of young people, how the work values and aspirations of Generation Y - those born in the 1980s and 1990s - differ from those of their predecessors.

As reported in Britain's The Daily Telegraph, the findings showed, for instance, that members of 'Gen Y' value leisure, want good salaries, prefer easy-paced jobs, dislike the idea of overtime and feel that work-life balance is a priority.

To the lay observer, one thing is immediately clear: Gen Y's wish list is remarkably similar to that of employees of any generation who have to earn their keep and do daily battle within a corporate hierarchy.

With unemployment rates stubbornly high, one can only hope those canvassed for the survey stress different aspirations in their job interviews.

To inject the necessary realism and prepare students for the transition to full-time work, local universities have taken a pragmatic approach.

'We run career preparation programmes and do role plays that simulate real-life situations and workplace communication,' says Herman Chan, director of careers and placement at the University of Hong Kong. 'We take a verbatim dialogue, analyse it and then look at several different scenarios.'

The starting point, he says, is to list the characteristics of the three generations now in the workplace. This includes their ways of managing, their obligations and priorities. What the younger, incoming group has to understand is how and why communication works between and within the generations.

A typical role play may involve a general manager telling a graduate trainee to sort out a customer-service problem. The latter could regard this as 'not my responsibility', finding reasons to delay or passing the case on to someone else in a display of Gen Y 'attitude'.

'There may be a gap in expectations, so I tell them from the point of view of a manager,' says Chan, who ran a company for many years. 'Someone with the pressure of increasing profits 15 per cent a year, whether the economic cycle is up or down, wants people who just do it. We demonstrate how to adjust to the real world and, at networking events, invite graduates with five to 25 years' experience to explain what's expected.'

For some faculties, these courses are compulsory as part of the broader syllabus. Other students, though, can sign up on a voluntary basis, and qualified external trainers are brought in as required. Student societies also run their own activities and seminars, inviting companies and career consultants to address specific issues.

Chui Yat-hung, a lecturer in Polytechnic University's department of applied social sciences, emphasises the importance of students understanding the job market and not deluding themselves.

'They should treasure employment opportunities and focus more on future prospects, not just the starting salary,' he says.

One aspect of the career programme focuses on how to be a good employee. It covers such things as attitudes to work, interaction with colleagues and punctuality. 'We don't say just follow the instructions, but you should know how to conform to the rules of the company and how to express your views effectively,' Chui says.

Career training

Lasts for about 20 hours

Consists of role play and instruction on communication, job market updates, interview skills, pay discussions and effective networking

Generally available every semester and designed mainly for second- and third-year students