Millennials in Professional Services

Face the challenges and embrace the opportunities


Millennials in Professional Services Portrait

A series of ‘Points of View’ articles based on latest research, client interviews, surveys & academic papers

The Millennial generation, with their unique attitudes and values, combined with an identified skills gap, pose significant challenges for professional services firms but also provide great opportunities if their potential can be harnessed.

Based on latest Millennials research, client interviews, surveys and academic articles, PSfPS have written a short series of articles giving our Points of View on the current situation and outlining potential implications for professional services leaders, particularly with regards to learning and development, HR strategy and future leadership decisions.

By 2020, Millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. It is time for professional services firms to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities offered by this unique generation of employees…

1. Who are Millennials and why should professional services firms care?

Who are the Millennials‘Millennials’ – also known as Generation Y – are individuals who were born in the early 1980s to late 1990s and will come of age in the early noughties (2000s).

For some, Millennials are lazy, narcissistic, job-hopping, praise seeking, entitled, skill-lacking, under-prepared digital addicts. Others see them as digitally proficient, adaptable, confident, creative, knowledge-seeking catalysts for accelerated business change.

From recent client conversations and speaking to many professional services firms we know that one of the key questions currently being asked by senior managers and directors of professional services firms is how to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities offered by the Millennial generation…

2. The Millennials’ Skills Gap – so what, why and what to do about it?

Millennials Skills GapRecent research of both employers and Millennials has found both groups agreeing that current education systems do not help students attain the required skills and behaviours to succeed in business.

This Point of View article outlines potential reasons why education is not giving students the required skills to survive in a real business environment and discusses why the perceived skills gap should be of concern to business leaders in professional services.

The article finds only a small percentage of business professionals believe that hard skills are more important than soft skills and argues that the fundamental skills required to succeed in professional services are ‘human’ skills, which can only be acquired through human experiences, interaction, coaching, explanation, modelling, collaboration, coaching, feedback and mentoring.

Fortunately, it is found that Millennials are keen to learn and develop skills and behaviours that will help them progress throughout their careers.

The next step for professional services firms is therefore to determine of what skills and behaviours a rounded business career skillset should comprise and then to establish how these skills and behaviours can be learned, developed, practiced and refined within the firm.

3. Defining a professional services career skillset for Millennials

Millennials Career SkillsetIn order to formulate a learning and development strategy to overcome the perceived skills gap among Millennials, firms must first define the rounded skillset required to succeed in a 21st Century professional services environment.

Based on research and experience, the 21st Century professional services rounded skillset for Millennials is defined as

  1. Digital proficiency
  2. Technical knowledge

Which is most successfully applied when combined with:

  1. Human’ skills and behaviours

Fundamentally, Millennials working in professional services will most successfully apply technical expertise and digital proficiency when it is combined with ‘human’ skills and behaviours. Core business operations are all founded on learning and developing core ‘human’ skills and behaviours.

Moving beyond the concepts of ‘soft skills’ and ‘emotional intelligence’, the article defines human skills required by Millennials as either:

  1. Competencies – needed to approach complex challenges at work, and
  2. Character Qualities – needed in the new work environment

4. Developing human skills among the Millennial professional services workforce

Developing Millennials Human SkillsMillennials are different, with their own unique attitudes and values. They want to learn and they want to work hard, they just want to learn and work differently to previous generations. Firms who show commitment to the learning and development of their Millennial workforce will gain loyal, committed and engaged employees.

This article provides a potential framework that professional services might follow to develop ‘human’ skills among their Millennial workforce. The proposed framework is based on the McKinsey Quarterly article of June 2003 entitled “The Psychology of Change Management”.

Capability Building: Professional services firms should ensure that the necessary infrastructure and mechanisms are in place for Millennial employees to learn, practice, develop and then refine the human skills required to succeed in business based on an analysis of individual skills and capabilities gaps.

A Compelling Story: Employees will only change their mindsets if they can see the point of change and agree with it, which has interesting implications when considering the learning and development needs of the Millennial generation.

Research suggests that Millennials want ‘meaning’ at work, self-determination and to know their work is making a difference. Professional services firms need to give their Millennials a story they can believe in by helping them to understand how developing ‘human’ skills and behaviours will not only aid their future career ambitions but also their clients and society as a whole.

Consistent Role Modelling: In order for Millennials to learn the required ‘human’ skills, they must be exposed to “significant other” role models (those in a position of influence) in their professional services firm who “walk the talk” and are able to coach them in and also demonstrate the right behaviours.

Reinforcement Systems: The final building block is to ensure that firms put in place ‘reinforcement systems’ such as feedback; appraisals; coaching and opportunities for Millennials to practice newly acquired human skills on an on-going basis, in a live business environment.

5. Can a ‘traditional’ professional services firm’s culture ever be compatible with the attitudes and expectations of Millennials?

November 2015Frustrated Millennial in Professional Services

Professional services firms should be under no illusion – the Millennials are coming. In the next few years, Millennials will make up the largest proportion of the workforce and will become the leaders of your firm.

Over the last few months PSfPS have extensively researched the role of Millennials in professional services with regards to their attitudes and existing skills set and it has become clear that some firms have already started to adapt their policies and procedures to satisfy the unique attitudes, desires and expectations of their Millennial employees.

However, when specifically focusing on professional services an overarching question still remains:

Can a traditional professional services firm’s culture ever be compatible with the attitudes and expectations of Millennials?

Using real examples, this Point of View article examines how firms should start to adapt their cultures (behaviours, processes and mindsets) to become more compatible with the attitudes of their Millennial employees without forgetting that Millennials also have a role to play.

Those firms who continue to maintain a ‘traditional’ culture could well be perceived as out-dated and old-fashioned and will not be where Millennials decide to pursue a fulfilling and engaging career.

The only way to change a ‘traditional’ culture is to change its associated traditions. Stop eulogising about the past but instead establish new traditions that are compatible with the attitudes of Millennials.

Firms should seize the opportunity to redefine their version of ‘traditional’ – otherwise, be under no illusion, the Millennials and market will redefine it for them…

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