Type in the word ‘millennial’ into Google and you’ll get served nearly 26 million results. Why is the world so curious about these tech-savvy, wireless youths? What is it about the way millennials think and behave that has piqued such global interest? Skye Forrester explores this unique group who are the world’s hope for tomorrow.
This group cannot be defined by their age, where they live and what they do. They should be defined by drives them.
There is much debate around who exactly constitutes a millennial, though a common definition puts anyone born between 1975 and 1995 into the generation Y category.
Generations before have been summed up by their most vulnerable characteristics. The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1960, were said to be a spoiled generation reluctant to grow up. Generation X, born between 1961 and 1980, were portrayed as a coddled generation that complained too much. When it comes to defining the current gate-keepers of tomorrowland, words like narcissistic, entitled and lazy are synonymous with this generation.
The negative generalisations of the previous generations have since morphed to encompass more positive traits. Baby Boomers are now characterised as ambitious and hard-working, and Generation X is described as sceptical but self-reliant. What will the world surmise about Generation Y when we’ve given them time to prove themselves? Most millennials today are still enjoying their youth – remember that wen you’re in your 20’s you’re figuring out who you are and finding your place in this wild world, so it’s easy for others to say you don’t have your act together.
THROUGH THE SEARCH BAR
Context is king and it’s important to understand the environment that bred this generation like no other. Let’s unpack some of the fundamental differences between this generation Y and the one’s before it:
Millennials grew up and began their careers in a time when almost every first-world home had an internet connection and a computer. In 2008 we saw the largest economic decline since the great depression in 1929, with devastating consequences. The overall unemployment rate has been high in recent years, but millennials have been hit the hardest. Televised war is on every news channel (From Paris to Iraq) and the change climate has come to fruition in obvious and visible ways. We’ve seen explosive growth in online companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, EBay and PayPal that have fundamentally changed the way we interact, consume media and buy products; not to mention a surge of career paths that simply didn’t exist ten years ago. Big industries have seen a revolution in the way they work, including widespread acceptance of flexi-time, working remotely, freelancing and unique incentives.
It’s clear there is a stark difference between millennials and the generations before them. However, more important than a global context to understanding our youth, is to explore our millennials in the unique South African context. South African Millennials, or Afrillennials make up nearly a quarter of the South African population – and estimated to soon grow at twice the rate of the overall population. Integrating Afrillennials into the work environment should be a priority, as this group will be making up the majority of the labour force in the not so distant future. The most common segmentation used for millennials in South Africa is age, but South Africa has one of the largest income gaps in the world; an important distinguishing factor between millennials in South Africa and those around the world. HDI Youth Marketeers’ managing director, Jason Levin, suggests a socioeconomic way of segmenting Afrillennials:
“Wannabees” make up 57% of South African millennials; they are formally or informally employed, have some level of income and form the largest single segment of the market. They dream of getting out of townships and saving money for items such as handbags and shoes.
In South Africa, approximately 25% of millennials are what could be referred to as “Welfare Staters”. These are survivalists who just get by, but who have hope for a better life despite the fact that they all live off state social grants of some sort.
The “I’ve Arrived’s” make up around 17% of South Africa’s market. They have a decent income, as well as homes (some owned and some rented) and children. They see this lifestyle as an achievement and status symbol.
Forming 18% of SA millennials, would be the “Struggling Despondents”, a group of mostly rural millennials who have low confidence and poor prospects, and are also dubbed the “South African lost generation”.
GLOBAL BELONGING; LOCAL CONTEXT
A research piece by Student Village illuminates some of the key differences between Afrillennials and global millennials, which may provide further insight into how these youngsters operate. Partnering with Amoeba Insights and Jag Method, the self-professed South African youth experts interviewed 1275 students between the ages of 19 and 25 to uncover the following insights.
- Afrillennials feel indebted to their families and feel they have a responsibility to help them out and give back. The reality that their money is not all theirs creates a distressing feeling that their dreams of financial independence have been delayed. This, Student village dubbed “Ubuntu Tax”.
- There was a shift from “education empowers the mind” to “education empowers the wallet”. Afrillennials see the value of obtaining the right degree that could lead to a high paying job and enable their dreams. This is rather incongruent to a global millennial prioritising ‘meaning’ in their daily work.
- This is also the first generation in SA to be born politically ‘baggage free’. They are generally embracing of other cultures and are best positioned to create cultural harmony in the workplace. However, given the transformation agenda of most companies in SA, this generation feel they have to work harder to prove their value.
- Afrillennials have a strong desire for international travel due to the badge value it still holds. They also want international exposure in order to be of better value in the workplace upon their return to South Africa. The fact they were raised in a multicultural environment makes it easier for them to adapt to other cultures, globally.
- Afrillennials embrace technological change and innovation in the workplace. Technology will be a great driving force behind creating the flexible work environment that Afrillennials desire; and they are best positioned to see this change through as they’ve been raised in a technology era.
Perhaps what makes this unique bunch difficult to define is that little brought this group together, united under a common cause. These young adults face no significant wars, fixed gender roles or post-war baby booming. In the words of Douglas Adams, ‘anything that is in the world when you are born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of how the world works. Anything that’s invented between the ages of 15 and 35 is new, exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things’. What comes naturally to Afrillennials is what will bring them together; empathy, user experience in technology, cultural integration, consideration of global and climate changes, acute awareness of intricate social dynamics and desire for a higher calling. This group cannot be defined by their age, where they live and what they do. They should be defined by drives them, which is ultimately the ‘Why’ in the Y-generation.