Opinion

Is technology more important than money when it comes to keeping top talent?

8 min read

11 July 2016

Brace yourself: the millennials are coming. This generation is set to shake up the rules of the workplace. Their career aspirations, their attitudes about work, and their knowledge of new technologies, are expected to define the culture of the 21st century business.

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Indeed, this comes at a time when some sectors – such as manufacturing in the UK – are certainly in need of a boost.

Millennials work differently to the rest of us, and their close relationship with technology can bring real business benefits to industry – that’s if businesses are prepared to take them on, nurture their talents and use them to grow.

Yet in the US, the number of employees under the age of 34 in manufacturing had declined from 45 per cent in 1980 to 15 per cent by 2010. Employers in this industry therefore need to understand this exciting generation – and their relationship with technology – before they can attract and benefit from this talent.

Technology as a priority

Millennials’ use of technology clearly sets them apart from others in the workplace. In its report Millennials in the Workplace, PwC found that because of their affinity with the digital world, this is the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of key business tools than more senior workers. As a result, they have expectations based around real-time interaction and constant mobile connectivity.

The same report found that 41 per cent of millennials prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face or even over the telephone. Millennials also routinely make use of their own technology and devices at work and three-quarters believe that access to technology makes them more effective at work.

This relationship with technology separates millennials from other generations in the workplace, according to PWC millennials feel held back by rigid or outdated working styles.

In our experience, this is certainly the case within the manufacturing industry where, perhaps surprisingly, firms are still tying their staff to desks in order to access business systems. Some even continue to use old green screen terminals, card based planning systems or standalone spreadsheets and databases.

As this group enters the workforce they are bringing with them a new perception of what office life should be like. Technology is no longer a “nice to have”, and gone are the days when being given a laptop for mobile working was a perk of the job. This generation is demanding technology as an essential requirement for day-to-day working.

Technology is key to staff retention

The importance now attributed to technology in the modern workplace is highlighted in global research conducted by Epicor Software Corporation. The research found that 37 per cent of global business leaders consider the use of leading edge and highly functional technology as a key factor in keeping talent.

Furthermore, when asked why staff leave their company, nearly one-third (29 per cent) of business leaders admitted employees leave to work at a company with better technology.

The study found that the ability to offer knowledge based roles, good technology, and avoiding a situation where people are bogged down with mundane administrative tasks and repetitive processes are key elements of ensuring good staff retention.

In addition, nearly eight in ten respondents said that ensuring people have access to the information they need is the most important factor in keeping employees. 

It’s clear that millennials with the right skills will be in high demand. Nearly 40 per cent of those surveyed by Epicor see attracting millennials into the workforce as a fairly significant or major focus. Only five per cent say they are not focusing on this at all.

Read more about the way millennials are changing business:

The changing face of workplace technology

Employees today expect technology to empower them, to enable them to have a direct impact on business growth, to simplify and automate both mundane tasks and essential processes, and to give them flexibility in their working patterns. But the lack of technological empowerment in some industries means that sectors such as manufacturing are struggling to attract the younger, skilled workers that it needs. 

Manufacturers have to fight the perception that this is an industry with old fashioned working practices. With the increasing consumerisation of IT, young people are simply not prepared to work with old fashioned technology, when a rival company will offer them something much more in line with their expectations – something that is mobile, highly intuitive, quick to learn and extremely forgiving.

Previous generations of ERP software are inflexible and unforgiving. Manufacturers had to design processes and working practices to match the demands of their ERP system, instead of putting their business needs first.

But this is starting to change. To suit the demands and working styles of the next generation of manufacturers, ERP must become much more agile, and the user experience more intuitive.

We are seeing more and more business leaders recognise that the features of workplace technology must be suited to this emerging breed of workers if employers are to successfully engage with, and grow, their existing talent pools, and avoid a potential skills gap in the future.

Millennials are increasingly seeking companies with a culture and infrastructure that enables them to work anywhere and anytime. They value flexibility in the workplace, with the option to work on the move and from home, and to adapt their work hours.

Mobility tools play an important role in facilitating that flexibility, as are social collaboration tools to support activities like information sharing, problem solving and exception handling.

Technology has also empowered employees, giving them better access and more control over things like training and development, performance management and employee benefits, thereby significantly enhancing the overall employee experience.

Technology is no longer just a tool to get work done. For millennials and the generations after them, it is a necessary part of their everyday life and can be a deal breaker in the workplace. In the years to come, the companies that succeed will be the ones that embrace the role technology has in retaining their most valued staff.

Sabby Gill is executive VP of international at Epicor Software

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