Market View: A Glimpse Into the Future Employees of America

Jan. 28, 2015
What I've learned about this next generation of food and beverage marketers.
My fall semester is over and I've had a chance to review what the new generation of food marketing job seekers will look like. I'm trying to be as objective as possible, as I clearly remember my father saying that our nation would fall apart when those long-haired hippies take over our business and government.

I am well aware that each generation has its own positives and negatives. Having taught for the past 40 years, I think I have a good perspective on what's happening today.

What does this have to do with food processing? The answer is simple: These graduates are going to be your new employees next year and, in the future, possibly executives. I don't think things will fall apart when these "kids" enter the food business. But I do believe that for many of us, this new generation will be a bit of a puzzle as to how to motivate them and how they fit into our existing organizations.

Students today are pampered not only by their parents but also by universities. Over the years, parents felt the need to remove all obstacles from their children's paths and/or to solve problems for them, so life is as smooth and comfortable as possible. Universities are exacerbating this situation.

I have never in my life received so many telephone calls from parents asking me how their children can get higher marks, what classes they should be taking, etc. I even had one parent write to every major administrator demanding that his child's grade be changed. In discussing this with colleagues in the food business, they told me that mothers have called to discuss their son or daughter's annual review and have asked for explanations of how they could be rated in a particular fashion.

Universities are relying more and more on tuition payments to stay afloat and are doing everything possible to make life easy for students. In fact universities have entire administrative divisions called "student success," whose job is to basically do everything possible to keep a student in school and paying his tuition. They have become the agent for the student in negotiating with faculty.

On my drive into school I see a number of billboards, and about half of them are for universities. Recruiting students has become big business, and keeping them is even more important. And don’t count on university faculty to help. Most faculty are more concerned about getting tenure, students liking them and getting positive student evaluations than demanding high-quality work.

Another key behavior, which in my opinion has a direct effect on their potential work habits, is their sense of time. I think because all of their problems are solved for them, they feel their personal desires are of utmost importance. While every year I hear myriad excuses for why students can't come to class, each year the excuses are more trivial (no more “my grandmother died”).

I have had students tell me they will miss class because they have a sorority party to get ready for. When I question this, they become indignant; how could I think that coming to class is more important than what they want to do personally? My issue is not with making excuses to miss class (I did that as much as anyone when I was a student), my issue is that they place their own personal activities above any kind of demanding requirement.

These new employees will come with the idea that their personal life is much more important than their business life. They will absolutely expect you to be very accommodating when they need to miss a sales team meeting to go to a homecoming party. They will think if they just don’t feel "good" they will miss work.

The implication of all this to a food company, whether it be in sales or other positions, is that things won't be exactly the same for you.

Let me share with you what I have learned. First, these are really smart kids. They are also excellent at finding out how far they can push you. Can they show up 15 minutes late? If yes, how about 30 minutes late? My recommendation: Set a standard and don’t vary.

At the beginning of semester, I say "nothing accepted late.” But some hand in assignments late and expect it to not be a problem. Guess what? After a few weeks and a few F's everyone was on time.

This next one may sound ridiculous: Have no contact with parents. They are insidious and will creep in little by little. Everyone wants to be politically correct or to be cordial but my advice is have no contact!

Push them hard. Today's students will search for the minimum but are capable of doing excellent work. Don't fall for the excuses. I have a weekly test for in-class presentation and three major research projects in my research class. They all complain, but by the end of the semester they are doing it and doing it well.

My final advice: Don't give up on them because they are not like past new employees. Invest in them the right way, and we will have future leaders that we can be proud to take over our legacy.

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