29/03/2005 - 22:00

Generation looks for its time in the sun

29/03/2005 - 22:00


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I have always been fascinated by generational change and the way society evolves no matter how many people would like to preserve the status quo.

Generation looks for its time in the sun

I have always been fascinated by generational change and the way society evolves no matter how many people would like to preserve the status quo.

In my view it is technology that drives change. At first technology simply makes life easier, reducing the emphasis on survival and subsistence.

That provides time to develop culture and the communication of ideas, which in turn has led to improved transport and communication.

It doesn’t matter what era of human history you examine, you’ll find those basic tenets in place.

What alters over time, though, is the pace of change.

Naturally, during the past 100 years or so there has been an incredible acceleration in the development, adoption and adaption of new technology.

Anyone who thinks the pace of change will slow this century is wrong, in my opinion.

So it is probably a good thing that one of the core attributes of the next generation to dominate our society is embracing change.

To me that was one of the most fascinating concepts to come out of this week’s look at Western Australia’s Generation X in our panel discussion with 11 professional or self-employed young people.

They love change so much they have almost entirely rejected some of the major elements of their parents’ generation – jobs for life, a 25-year mortgage on the family home and being rooted in a geographic location.

Instead they are mobile, flexible and hard to pin down. One of the panel members felt it necessary to explain her seven-year tenure in a job she loves.

These days few Gen Xers will ever see long-service leave.

Admittedly, much of the group we spoke to represented a slightly more conservative element of their generation.

They were, in the main, professionals. The very fact that they were on the panel meant most of them were established in their Perth networks, which in itself suggests they were at least more likely to have decided to stay in WA than their peers.

One of the key pieces of information I picked up was their desire for flexibility. Not that I was surprised by this in its own right, but more so by the very flexibility applied to the interpretation of this desire.

For instance, some wanted the flexibility to be able to move interstate or offshore within their career track, whereas one young participant preferred the flexibility of self-employment that allowed him to work the hours he saw fit.

Same goal, but a very different approach.

Another thing that employers would be worth watching for from their younger staffers is just how much lifestyle means to them, though again there is some contrasts to how this applies.

It is clear none of the people in the room wanted to work until age 65 and then take a caravan trip in their sunset years.

Some wanted to enjoy life to the full now, and career had to fit into that.

One engineer had specifically sought work in Perth because the windsurfing was good.

But others, indeed several, spoke of working hard now to enjoy the fruits of their labour in early retirement.

With most of them delaying marriage and parenthood until their mid-30s it is, perhaps, understandable that those who choose the latter course may find it an unattainable dream.

On another note for employers – this generation really values training and development.

In fact, they shop around for employers that can provide them with what they need to make sure their career is on track.

No waiting for the mysterious tap on the shoulder from upper management; this is definitely a generation on the move – and mobility requires a CV that translates well in any place in the world, not just a place where someone knows your father.

As for their views on Perth and its lifestyle, again, we probably chose a somewhat one-eyed bunch. They have, after all, chosen to live here. And chosen is the operative word for their generation, because they have more options to work abroad in a global skills shortage than any generation since the Second World War.

In the main they were somewhat frustrated by daylight saving, with some quite outspoken on the inconvenience of the three-hour summer time difference with the eastern states.

But, surprisingly, the majority proved somewhat tolerant of the referendum outcome on trading hours, even if a little disappointed by the result.

Even our antiquated liquor licensing laws failed to get them ranting or raving.

They seemed mainly to like living here and they’d wear the consequences.

If that meant drinking in the afternoon or fitting in shopping when retailers were open, they were not going to let that get them down.

Many figured that change would inevitably catch up with those sectors and, unlike their stereotypical image of the impatient generation, they appeared happy to wait.

Maybe Gen Xers from elsewhere would feel differently about this but it is a telling note and most certainly a contrast with the Baby Boomers, who were known for preferring revolution to alter things that did not suit their own special need to adapt the world to suit them.

Finally, thanks to the crew from FutureNet, who represent the younger set from several professional bodies within WA industry.

And special thanks to Jo Watson from the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia, who coordinated the group.

A final astute observation about Gen X from me was, from our limited sample, 18 per cent of them – and more specifically 28 per cent of the men – preferred to retain their sunglasses of their head during proceedings.


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