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Gen Y careers stifled by lack of corporate innovation?

CBC Windsor looks to answer the question: What can Windsor do to attract and keep the best and brightest millennials of Generation Y? (Tom Addison/CBC News)

By 2025, Millennials will account for 75 per cent of the world's workforce. As Gen Y gains more prominence in corporate Canada, Baby Boomers are struggling to find a balance between the innovation this demographic craves and the legacy ways of doing business coveted by the generations that came before.

A recent Deloitte survey, completed by 5,000 Millennials from 18 different countries, shows 78 per cent of Generation Y believes innovation is crucial to corporate growth, yet only 26 per cent believe executives are fostering a culture of change.

In stark contrast, those in positions of power believe they're making innovation a priority. Ninety-one per cent of global business leaders believe innovation is of critical concern for their company, according to the latest Global Innovation Barometer study by General Electric.

Millennials have been painted as the entitled generation: They expect early career advancement and are reticent to learn from Baby Boomer bosses. Millennials would argue older generations in positions of power are too tied to outdated business models and attitudes.

For 26-year-old Japman Bajaj, co-founder of Soshal Group, a digital media agency based in Ottawa, a mix of the tried-and-true and something new is what leads to success.

“Are we doing things differently? Yes,” he says of Millennials. “But at the core of business, everybody’s doing the same thing; every business is taking the same philosophical approach. Here’s a problem, this is how we solve it.”

Innovative culture key to attracting talent

Two-thirds of Millennials say an innovative corporate culture is an attractive factor when applying for work, the Deloitte survey points out.

Byrne Luft, the vice president of operations for Manpower Canada, says innovation is critical for all generations, not just Millennials.

“Does anybody want to work with a company that’s not innovating and being better and being more interesting?” Luft asks. “Would you rather work for a company that does not innovate and is not open to new ideas?”

John Levis, chief innovation officer at Deloitte, echoes Luft’s beliefs, but his reasoning is different.

“I think the big difference is the connection Millennials make between business innovation and societal innovation,” he says. “That’s less the case for Boomers. There’s much more distinction between those two.”

Levis acknowledges Baby Boomers were not surveyed on the topic, but says the company has noticed a difference between the two generations.

How can business bring innovation to the forefront?

Canadian Millennials rate their employers more positively than most of their global peers, and were more likely to say they worked for companies with environments that inspired innovation.

However, Millennials still feel there is room for improvement.

For example, 34 per cent say free time to be creative is necessary for an innovative environment; a luxury not necessarily feasible in today’s work environment.

Encouraging innovative thinking, rewarding new ideas, and having the freedom to challenge established norms in the workplace were other suggestions Generation Y believe would lead to more innovation at work.

“Different people innovate in different ways,” says Levis. “Organizations need to facilitate opportunities for collaboration.”

He believes business leaders need to follow the “three Es"

  • Endorsement (dialogue supporting innovation facilitated by business leaders)

  • Education (valuing different strengths of employees and changing views on education)

  • Encouragement (collaborating within the organization and with customers and competitors, taking risks, and rewarding employees for innovative ideas even if they are unsuccessful)

“A millennial can be part of the decision-making process, for coming up with the decision to solve a certain problem,” Luft adds. He also suggests allowing employees to work outside of the typical office setting, using social media to help with creativity, and teaching Millennials different skills so they can be more versatile.

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