Access to computing and the web in higher education settings is driving significant trends and behavioural changes that graduates will bring to the workplace. These new employees will arrive with high computing competency and greater collaborative behaviour than their predecessors, along with the expectation that their organisation’s computing environment is a work-life toolkit that will allow them to blend personal and professional activities. Several trends foretell key behaviours and challenges that students will bring with them as they enter the workforce over the next decade.
Trend: Virtual networking is ubiquitous in university environments.
In the educational environment, the web is a resource for study, entertainment, communication and social interaction. Most students have gravitated toward social-networking sites where they can post information about themselves.
One important aspect of this ubiquitous computing at universities is that collaboration and community participation are natural behaviours for nearly all students. Those students will bring that behaviour into the workplace. This is good news and bad news for the organisations that hire them.
Organisations are aspiring to become collaborative workplaces, but they are struggling to build collaborative environments in corporate computing domains. Organisations are also challenged with changing their cultures from competitive to collaborative. So, the good news is that, as today’s students move into the workforce, the behaviour and culture desired by organisations will, in fact, become the norm.
The bad news is that there will be new challenges. For example, communities are self-organising and self-policing — thus, organisational managers must shift their behaviour to leading rather than controlling as the style for setting direction and making decisions. Organisations will need new thinking, policies, and guidelines that facilitate and moderate how community and collaboration environments are used for work versus personal activities.
Trend: Online activities leave ‘permanent records’ of virtual world behaviour.
While enrolled at a university, students create mostly personal content in their online activities and blogs, and they are able to participate in a relatively safe environment. As students move into the workforce, new issues may arise with the virtual trail they leave behind.
Organisations may consider this information in hiring decisions — the virtual track record, online behaviour and blog comments may stand in as the personal reference of the candidate employee. Negative or unsavoury behaviour directed toward government, industry or corporate objectives may influence the decision to hire or the perception of an individual long after the virtual record was created.
Organisations need policies on how permanent online records created by individuals before they reached adulthood can and should be considered and used in work or public life. Employees are likely to initiate a backlash toward employer use of pre-employment web activities — for example, unless legal boundaries were crossed, personal web postings should not be accessible information.
Trend: Employers expect well-educated candidates to have credentials in team and collaborative competencies.
Higher education institutions have traditionally “credentialed” university graduates on individual achievement and intelligence, and organisations have continued to reward people using individual performance standards throughout their work life. However, the work world steadily forces changes in university practices. Today, the corporate world is moving toward valuing people by their ability to successfully:
• Team with others and accomplish collaboratively.
• Build influence and support through networks, ideas,
• Work remotely with people across organisational, business, and geographical boundaries.
In fact, the business world is changing organisational incentive and reward systems based on a belief that the output of a group is superior to the output of many individuals and that a star team player contributes more overall value to the organisation than a star individual. Savvy managers who are focused on evolving the culture and productivity of their companies, will do well to look at the behaviour and practices of university students as they develop strategies and policies for their future workforce.
Mary Ann Maxwell is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner.
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