Generation Y will be challenged to meet the demands of its current and future employers who are placing ever greater emphasis on the soft skills necessary to compete in the knowledge economy - a misalignment of workplace priorities that will undermine Toronto's future economic performance if left unaddressed.
According to phase two of Toronto Next, an in-depth research report released today by George Brown College and conducted by Leger Marketing, one-third of Generation Y admits to being only "somewhat familiar" with the concept of the knowledge-based economy in which collaboration, communication and customer service are necessary complements to the technical skills needed to drive individual and team performance. Conversely, employers are almost twice as familiar with the concept and almost 60 per cent believe the shift to the knowledge-based economy has already taken place (compared with only 16 per cent of Gen Ys). In fact, 83 per cent of employers say all or some of the today's entry-level jobs are knowledge-based.
When asked what they believe is the one most important skill to employers when hiring recent graduates, the highest percentage (25 per cent) of Gen Y respondents identified job-related experience, while the highest percentage of employers (28 per cent) identified communication skills.
George Brown College President Anne Sado said that the numbers send a troubling signal that future employees and employers are potentially headed in different directions, but is confident the gap can be narrowed by continuing to integrate more work-place or real life learning opportunities into post-secondary programs.
"What employers are saying is that the technical skills are table stakes. They're expected as a base level," says Sado. "But we need much more participation and collaboration both from public and private players to ensure that the seeds of the knowledge-based economy spread across all industries and disciplines."
According to Toronto Next, employers and Gen Ys are at odds over the importance of soft skills in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication and customer service. In fact, only 50 per cent of Gen Ys believe customer service to be extremely important to employers while 70 per cent of employers place emphasis on customer service as a necessary soft skill.
Approximately two-thirds of Gen Ys believe communication and teamwork to be important to employers while those hiring place much more importance on these skills, with more than 80 per cent stating that they are extremely important. In addition, 71 per cent of employers put emphasis on the ability to communicate with people of other cultures, compared with only 49 per cent of Gen Ys.
"There will need to be a significant re-evaluation by Gen Ys and their younger siblings of the skills on which they should be focusing," says Sado. "The knowledge-based economy will require much more attention by every institution on the balance of soft and hard skills, and the majority of Gen Ys still seem to be under the impression that focusing their attention on the latter will suffice to acquire meaningful and gainful employment. That's just not the reality of today or tomorrow."
Despite the misalignment of workplace priorities between the two groups, the survey results indicate agreement on other issues including the belief that IT, financial services, and science and technology will be key economic drivers over the next 10 years.
The survey polled a random sample of 500 Toronto residents between the ages of 18 and 35, and 300 of the city's employers between Jan. 6 and 24, 2010. The study has a margin of error +/- 4.4 per cent.
With nine out of 10 graduates hired within six months of graduation, Toronto's George Brown College has established a reputation for equipping students with the skills, industry experience and credentials to pursue the careers of their choice. From its two main campuses located across the downtown core, George Brown offers nearly 160 programs across a wide variety of professions to a student body of 70,000 (including those enrolled in full-time, part-time, international students and continuing education programs). Students can earn diplomas, post-graduate certificates, industry accreditations, apprenticeships and four-year bachelor degrees.