Businesses need to prep for connected grads: Cisco study

The three-pronged, 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report, commissioned by Cisco Systems Inc. and conducted by InsightExpress LLC, hopes to educate current employers to help them find the best candidate for the job by offering the right amenities and allowances.

The first part of the study examined the strong ties between college students and the Internet. The second part found that those ties are directly influencing prospective and under 30 job seekers wants and needs.

Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer for San Francisco, Calif.-based Cisco, said college grads are now used to multi-tasking and constant connectivity and might choose that kind of freedom, even at the cost of making better money. The study reaffirms this assertion, finding that one in three (of the 2800) respondents “would prioritize social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary in accepting job offers.”

“These things are things that young employees and students see value in and they’re starting to compete with things like salary and such when making decisions of where they want to work,” Seifert said.

“We didn’t conduct this survey because we’re trying to sell something, we were just basically trying to educate organizations like HR and businesses out there that are using this information.”

Susanna Hunter, senior research analyst at London Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Inc., is a little doubtful about the findings, despite their usefulness. “Most organizations don’t even use social media to recruit with, yet,” she said. “So, I think that might be stretching it a bit to expect those same organizations would offer them this full suite of connectivity and flexibility. The reality is just not there.”

While the survey emphasizes that the modern college grad is used to the distraction of social media, and, in fact, thrives in a multi-tasking environment, unless there is a business case for some of these changes, she thinks they may not be able to quite so picky.

“Maybe it’s something to aspire to, but I would say 80 per cent of companies aren’t even close to it yet,” Hunter said. “Are you going to eliminate 80 per cent of the organizations that are out there?”

The study doesn’t just suggest that access to Facebook and a hand-picked mobile device are what new grads want. They also want flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere, something Cisco knows a lot about.

Seifert said the average college student is used to distractions and allowing them during the day but this leads them to spread the work out into whatever hours they need. “The vast majority would get interrupted at least five times an hour, “ he said. “So they’re very used to working on multiple things, dealing with distractions and still getting through with it and that’s part of how they deal with working on their projects and assignments, working non-traditional hours.”

According to the study, at least one of every four employed under-30 employees said “the absence of remote access would influence their job decisions,” such as looking for new jobs, declining offers outright and leaving a new job sooner rather than later. 29 per cent of the college students surveyed felt that it was more their right, than just a privilege, to have the option to work from home.

On this, Hunter thinks more middle ground can be sought. While, from a business perspective, some jobs just can’t work remotely, regardless of connectivity (like jobs in production or the medical field), she said there is a general trend toward more flexibility in working from home.

The problem lies in explaining it to management and showing them that out-of-office time isn’t time wasted. “Certainly face-time isn’t a valid measurement of productivity,” Hunter said. “There is absolutely a trend towards results-based productivity measures and if you’re in a role that offers that, then that’s a flexibility I think is totally a reasonable expectation.”

This puts the survey results at a bit of an impasse. While it’s true that new employees might go out seeking jobs based on the availability of social media, a device of their choosing and non-traditional hours, their bargaining power will depend heavily on the industry they join. Hunter said that if the economy were better, or the job seeker has a hot skill that’s in demand, these types of expectations become more reasonable. For the vast majority, however, she thinks the immediate future will involve a lot of compromise.

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