Convergence & change: why graduates and employers need to adapt  

John Herlihy addressing the 2014 gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards

John Herlihy addressing the 2014 gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards

John Herlihy, Vice President at Google, writes on the speed of change and evolution in today’s workplace, and why companies need to be transparent and dynamic to realise the potential of today’s graduates.

The keynote speech at the 2014 gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards was delivered by John Herlihy, Vice President at Google. Speaking to a room of employers, academics and key influencers in the sphere of graduate recruitment, John spoke of a workplace which is increasingly dominated by the age of convergence.

“Today, we are not so much surprised by change, but the speed of change. Innovation that previously took a generation to happen can now occur in weeks and months,” he said, referring to the massive leaps in technology apparent in today’s world, made possible by convergence. In this context, convergence of the data, technology and, most importantly, the human context, are amplified by the mobile and online revolution, which has ‘flattened the earth’ and achieved in seven years that which took the printing press 400 years and telephone 50 years to achieve. John referred to the current graduates as ‘millennials’, a connected and expectant generation in a world in which mobile devices will soon outstrip the population of the planet, and even toothbrush ownership!

The ‘millennial’ generation

The speech made the point that today’s graduates have grown up in this world, this is not new to them. It is indeed employers who possess the greater challenge in understanding the mindset and expectations of millennials when they are recruiting.

As he explained; “They (millennials) are taking the traits of the convergence economy and are expecting them to be evident in the workplace…..they care less about titles, status and salary….are more interested in the ‘network’ than the hierarchy….are more interested in projects that connect with their strengths and abilities and expect managers to support them through this progression.”

It was interesting to hear the head of one of the country’s largest employers speak of today’s graduates ‘choosing who they want to work for’ and how they do that work. “Graduates expect to know in real-time what is going on in the organisation. They want clear objectives set. They expect access to information. They expect regular reviews rather than annual appraisals. They want the workplace to be a social enterprise, focused on collaboration, where the best ideas win rather than concern about where they originated from.”

Challenges for employers 

So what questions do the expectations and attitudes of the ‘millennial’ generation pose for employers? Does the world of convergence mean that the traditional company/employee dynamic is inherently changed forever? As Herlihy said to employers in his speech: “will you even have employees in ten years’ time? Or will you be fortunate enough to attract talent and be allocated time by the smartest talent out there?”

John also spoke of need for employers to build an organisation in which transparency, trust and reputation are forged as an inherent part of the company’s culture. Graduates demand trust and disclosure and employers need to create a culture that holds the diverse nature of an organisation together. Employers also need to know their employees, their aspirations and their needs. “In this age of convergence, you have an opportunity to use technology and data to really understand how to best foster and grow your talented people, assigning them the most challenging and rewarding work in your organisation,” he said.

He made another interesting point referring to the need for companies to have ‘building blocks’ in place before further innovation can take place, and that employers would need to convince graduates of the “need to have fundamental ‘hard skills’ in place. Speed alone will not solve many problems. I believe we need a strong focus on hard skills in the first instance.”

Closing his speech, he added that while the future is unknown, the best companies will be prepared for it, successfully blending internal and external knowledge to fill talent gaps and enhance their competitive position. He concluded with a message to both graduates and employers; “Let’s remember that it is not the fittest that survive and thrive, but those who best adapt to the environment they find themselves operating in.”

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