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South Africa’s Millennials: What do they want?

What SA’s Millennials think of business, and how they differ from global peers.

A lot has been written about the generation of young people known as Millennials or Generation Y – people born between (roughly) 1982 and 2003 – the slouching youths currently filling our schools, universities and entry-level job. They have been described variously as narcissistic, entitled, confident, tolerant, materialistic, civic-minded, and a whole lot of other things; it seems like everyone who writes about this generation has a different take on what they’re like.

What’s been lacking in all this is hard data. Happily, in the most recent data-heavy addition to the ongoing discussion around the nature of Millennials, Deloitte has published a report called the Millennial Survey, in which Deloitte interviewed about 5000 Millennials in eighteen countries, including South Africa, asking them various questions about their attitudes towards business, their views on important social problems, and so on.

For the purposes of the survey, Deloitte defined Millennials as those who were born after January 1982, were degree educated, and were in full-time employment. Thus, these individuals are not representative of all Millennials, just those with a degree and a job – in other words, the kind of Millennials you probably work with. Deloitte interviewed about 300 people per country, including 320 in South Africa.

The results, despite their limitations, are quite illuminating. While it’s interesting to read the whole report, which aggregates the responses from all of the countries, I’d like to pull out some of the South Africa-specific findings that struck me.

South African Millennials appear less likely than their peers to think that the company they work for benefits their society

Some 65% of Millennials believe that their employer benefits society, compared to only 57% of South Africans (unfortunately, Deloitte does not provide enough data for me to determine whether this difference is statistically significant or not). This puts South African Millennials right near the bottom of the pile on this question; only the United Kingdom and South Korea are lower.

South African Millennials perceive unemployment as the top challenge facing their society in the next 20 years

While Brazilians fret about resource scarcity, South East Asians, South Koreans, Indians, and Americans worry about inflation, and the Chinese, Japanese and Dutch are concerned about ageing populations, South Africans (together with the Spanish, French, and British) rank unemployment as the number one challenge facing the nation.

South African Millennials think the main purpose of business is to generate profit

This is an interesting one (see chart below). The chart shows Millennials’ responses to the question of what the main purpose of business is. As you can see, roughly equal proportions of Millennials think business is meant to improve society and generate profit. Interestingly, however, both South Africans and South Koreans selected “generate profit” as their top choice.

South African Millennials think they work for innovative companies, but don’t feel personally encouraged to innovate

Interestingly, most South African Millennials are confident that they work for an innovative company (see chart), yet South Africa has some of the world’s biggest “innovation gaps” – that is, thgapse gap between what South Africans think is necessary for innovation and the extent to which their company provides it. Specifically, while South African Millennials think that it is important for companies to encourage and reward innovation and creativity, most of them don’t think that their company does this.

They also think it’s important for companies to provide staff with free time for learning and trying out new ideas, but lament that their companies do not do this. Finally, they think it’s important for management to encourage creativity and idea generation, but they find that their own companies’ leaders fail to do so.

All in all, the report offers some interesting insights into the minds of South Africa’s young skilled workers. They are pragmatic, and believe that their companies should be making money, but they worry about the challenges posed by high unemployment. They value innovation and see their employers as innovative, yet they do not personally feel supported in their efforts to generate new ideas. For managers, this insight may help them unlock the potential of their young employees.


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