June 21, 2022
The 1980’s were arguably the BEST time to be a teenager. We (80s teens) had the best music videos on MTV, hours away from our parents spent roaming shopping malls. We had Ferris Bueller and Fast Times, bike rides around the neighborhood, and unwavering faith that Rambo and Chuck Norris would save us from the Cold War.
I remember being at the mall one day in 1983 having just gotten my ear pierced. I can picture my dad sitting on a bench eating a corn dog on a stick. I sheepishly walked up to him to show off my latest attempt to look like George Michael and heard his response, “Ugh, kids today…” It’s a memory that has stuck with me, as I find myself and my peers muttering the same words.
It seems that every generation regards the next generation unfavorably, worrying that humanity is doomed to be left in their hands. My grandparents felt this way towards my parents’ “free love” generation, and my parents towards my generation, Gen X. Now in 2022, it’s popular to bash Millennials (ages 26-41) as lazy avocado-eaters who live with their parents and Gen Z (10-25) as tech-addicted social justice warriors. But Millennials and Gen Z are also most of the workforce.
Millennials are used to digital content and handheld devices. They’ve had them for most of their lives in some form or another. Some of them grew up with the Internet and others didn’t get online until age ten, but they still consider themselves a tech-savvy generation. The eldest Gen Z members are now in their early twenties, part of the first digitally native generation. They’ve had devices in their hands as babysitters, entertainers, and teachers for as long as they can remember. Both groups rely on social media to build connections and prefer to consume short, optimized content. Both respond to videos and visual media over anything printed or verbal. Both expect content to be personalized and available anywhere, anytime on an easy-to-use device. 12% of Gen Z already use AR or VR daily, while 40% use AR on handheld devices like phones or tablets. I’m primarily speaking about younger workers in the U.S. but AR/VR/MR (XR) use is even more accelerated among workers in Asia and Europe where our organization (and maybe yours, too) have factories.
These are our employees. They’re leading teams within our companies. They’re our customers, deciding which products are relevant and whether we’ll meet our sales quotas. We can make fun of them, but the truth remains that they are the future of enterprise as we, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, slide into peaceful retirement (hopefully soon!). We have to know and understand them.
I was recently asked to speak to the Talent Management team about why we have an Extended Reality Center of Excellence in a manufacturing company. My simple answer was that our NEAR future workforce consumes training materials digitally on phones and tablets. They can’t pinch and zoom an image on a printed piece of paper in a three-ring binder. You know, the three-ring binders that we and you too probably still have in your plants? Zoomers don’t connect with those (my high schoolers don’t even use paper textbooks in school anymore).
The workforce of the now and future need to be able to reference information digitally when and where they need it on devices with which they’re naturally comfortable. They need to communicate with their coworkers on those same devices, share ideas and insights to feel a part of something, and continuously develop their skills. So, my charge to you is to meet this workforce where they are. Provide training that will resonate with them. Give them the devices they’re adept at or eager to use. Let them show you how they learn best and not the other way around. Extended Reality is a great set of technologies for enabling this workforce to be both productive and safe in industrial environments. Even if you and I believe TikTok is a waste of time and MTV should go back to playing music videos, it’s not about us. It’s time to give them the tools to successfully inherit the enterprise.