What marketers can learn from Generation Y
A view from Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa

What marketers can learn from Generation Y

Paid internships are a great way to inject the wisdom of digital natives into a business, writes Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa, head of GoThinkBig.

They’ve been dubbed the "me" generation (or "Me Me Me" according to a recent issue of Time magazine) – those born between 1980 and 1994 who have grown up on a diet of technology, social media networks, but also a disproportionate sense of entitlement – or so the argument goes.

So, as an employer, is this a group you want to attract? 

I would argue, absolutely. Widely acknowledged as the first generation to grow up fully immersed in the internet, Generation Y is also the most educated, globally-minded and naturally collaborative – and it’s also soon to be the largest generation ever. What’s more, they are coming in poised to revolutionise the workplace. For this reason alone, they can’t be ignored.

This generation of workers are an entirely new breed and as they enter the workplace they bring a brand new perspective on work – and life – with them. This new breed of worker is confident, well-connected, entrepreneurial and possesses a genuinely optimistic view of the world. 

While all of these are desirable in a potential employee, perhaps the most striking quality of this demographic is their tech-savviness. This is a world they have an intrinsic, first-hand understanding of. Spending most of their daily lives online, and always "on", they are, as a result, trend-setters and early adopters of emerging technologies.

They’re at the front-line of the marketing frontier. Quite simply, many products live or die by their ability to gain approval from this group. In this respect, they are invaluable for marketers. As the target market for many products, they can give real insight into your consumers and their wants and needs. On top of this, it shouldn’t be forgotten that they are rising spenders in their own right and their purchasing power is only set to increase…

But how can employers harness their true potential in the workplace?

Despite all of this, they’re also the group that has been hit hardest by the recession. They have had the misfortune of entering the labour market just as the downturn was taking hold. Other generations have come of age during a poor job market, but none have been as heavily burdened by student loans. Coupled with spiralling costs of university fees and the debt associated with further education, millennials have not had the easiest of rides.

The current unemployment rate in the 16-25 age group stands at almost a million (958,000). We recently conducted some research which found that, of these, 460,000 have not been able to secure works skills and experience relevant to their chosen career.

This lack of relevant work experience can be an insurmountable obstacle for the bright, motivated generation of emerging workers. In the same survey, 42% of employers said that skills and experience is the most important thing they look for at entry level positions – and yet over half (51%) of UK businesses don’t currently offer work experience opportunities. What’s more, 69% admitted that they do not formally publicise these opportunities to young people.

As work experience gives a vital bridge between academic and working life, this is a serious issue. Businesses can and should be investing in paid work experience placements to help young people gain the experience they need.

And, when they do secure a placement, young people shouldn’t be just making the tea; they should be treated as valuable members of the organisation with a genuine ability to contribute and drive change. The marketing sector has historically been very open to taking on work experience candidates but to get the best out of them companies need to be willing to invest in their training and listen to their ideas.

The right kind of experience gives young people a chance to apply what they’ve learnt to real world situations: developing their confidence, adding new skills to their portfolio and preparing them for entering the world of work. At the same time, it gives employers the opportunity to tap into the mindset of an increasingly important demographic of spenders.

Our research highlighted that many young people feel trapped in a Catch 22 situation where they aren’t able to successfully obtain work experience, because they don’t have the right experience in the first place.

To try and break down these barriers, we established GoThinkBig, a partnership between O2 and Bauer Media. It aims to level the playing field and open up a wide variety of work experience opportunities to a young people across the UK. There are thousands of opportunities on the site which offer a foot in the door, providing the first step on the path to long-term employment.

Despite the economic pressures that businesses are facing globally, they should make it a top priority to attract, retain and develop young talent. By helping Generation Y to reach their full potential, we’re laying the foundation for the next generation of successful business leaders. Can your company really afford to miss out?