Who are ‘Millennials’ and why should professional services firms care?

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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 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.

Barry Salzburg, for example, former CEO of Deloitte Global recently said of ‘The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey’;

“These findings[1] should be viewed as a valuable alarm to the business community, particularly in developed markets, that they need to change the way they engage Millennial talent or risk being left behind.”

No student or graduate has ever been fully prepared to enter the world of work, so why should professional services firms now be particularly concerned about the Millennial generation?

Firstly, it is the fundamental role Millennials will play in the future growth of professional services firms. In just five years’ time, the Millennial generation will make up over half the total workforce. As the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation start to exit business life, Millennials will become leaders of the business world, responsible for ideas, strategy, relationships and growth of the firm.

What’s more, not only will the majority of the workforce be Millennials, the majority of future professional services clients will also be Millennials.

Unfortunately, as highlighted by recent research, the core ‘human’ skills and behaviours required to succeed in a professional services environment remain lacking and under-developed among the Millennial generation. In order for firms to develop leaders of the future, certain key ‘human’ skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication must become part of the 21st Century business skill set developed among Millennials by their employers.

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Secondly, professional services firms should recognise that Millennials are different.

They have their own unique attitudes and distinct values sets as result of the socio-economic and technological environment within which they have been raised.

Millennials want ‘meaning’ at work. They seek a “higher purpose” and a “reason for being”. They want autonomy, self-determination and to know their work is making a difference. They want their work to create a better society and improve their clients’ lives.

Importantly, Millennials want to learn and they want to work hard. They just want to learn and work differently to previous generations and they want to see commitment from their employer. In return, employers will gain a loyal, committed and engaged employee, in it for the long term.

Our next Point of View article examines the perceived Millennials’ skills gap and asks ‘Why, so what and what to do about it?’

[1] Mind the gaps – The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey (p.2)


Millennials in Professional Services

Millennials in Professional Services Portrait

Discover our entire Points of View Series on Millennials

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 be compatible with the attitudes of Millennials?

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.Frustrated Millennial in Professional Services

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 make them more compatible with their Millennial employees.

Ultimately, firms need to redefine ‘traditional’ before Millennials and the market do it for them…

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