The nature of work is changing, prompting a shift in the role that university graduates play when they start work. While manual tasks once performed by new grads are increasingly being done by computers, juniors can still benefit from doing a cadetship appropriate for today’s workplace.
Rob Hillard is Deloitte's Managing Partner of consulting. He says that relatively mundane tasks typically performed by younger people can have the advantage of giving them essential exposure to senior people, and to information about the business and the industry in which it operates.
“This ranges from basic clerical work through to photocopying and transcribing. These tasks are wonderful ways to develop skills,” he says.
“It's a mistake to think you need skilled workers and don't have a reason for entry-level positions, because you need entry-level staff to develop skilled workers. Another problem is that, without graduates, you don't get cultural memory in the business,” he says.
Hillard believes finance teams operate much more effectively when senior staff are involved in teaching and developing junior staff.
However, he acknowledges that the role of new graduates is changing.
“We may not need graduates to do data entry; but we need them to find out why the information in a spreadsheet is wrong, for instance,” he says.
“That exploration work is not something you can do with a machine. It's also something that doesn't lend itself well to being offshored and something that is very suitable for more junior staff.”
Redesigning hard-to-automate tasks for juniors
Hillard is assisting CFOs to redesign jobs and identify activities that are difficult to automate. They are often exception-based roles that are an ideal place for more junior staff, and which can be pathway jobs to the middle-skill ranks.
Deloitte recently published its periodic Millennial Survey, which found 37 per cent of respondents in developed markets who were born between January 1983 and December 1994, don't think they will be better off than their parent's generation.
Hillard says that job opportunities are not being well-communicated.
“One of the things that's very surprising is the majority of Millennials do not feel equipped for the fourth industrial revolution, which is the next wave of technology coming through business – even though we think they are the most digitally-equipped group,” says Hillard.
“They're feeling unprepared because we haven't designed jobs for the future,” he says.
The rise in 'gig' work is not a positive thing for this generation, he says, and insecure work is not highly sought after by Millennials.
“People are choosing to do that work because they don't see the alternatives. The preference is still to work for an employer providing fulltime employment – but they do expect variety,” he adds.
Hillard says the good news is that as finance teams re-design roles, juniors are doing far less photocopying.
“They are doing a much wider variety of tasks, but we must make sure that learning is not geared towards mastery of a narrow domain, but towards exploiting a wide domain,” he says.
Hillard believes that the key is to encourage employers to create a wide breadth of opportunities.
“We think that's the reason why Millennials assume that to get job satisfaction and experience they need to move jobs every two to three years.”
Ongoing training and education essential
As finance departments prepare for the future, they could embrace a more forward-looking approach to training and development for young people.
“Businesses tend to allocate training budgets to activities they are doing today. But more focus needs to be placed on future skills. What businesses can do is constantly move people through jobs, then learning and development budget follow,” says Hillard.
University degrees may in the future be replaced by ' micro-degrees', according to some predictions.
Tanyth Lloyd, Deloitte's Director of talent acquisition, says that university degrees in some disciplines are becoming increasingly irrelevant and are less able to produce job-ready graduates, because the curriculum hasn't been updated to reflect contemporary business practices are less.
“In areas like medicine and law, the structure of the curriculum is still relevant. But for fast-moving skills and capabilities, it's hard to imagine how the curriculum can keep up,” she says.
Deloitte's graduates are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and Lloyd says the business is more interested in the way people think than their degree. “We're looking for problem solvers, critical thinkers and individuals who are fluent in technology and analytics.”
She says the professional services firm is always looking for people who want to undertake continuous learning. “If they don't have this, they're not going to be able to keep up.”
Lloyd says in the past graduates learned by doing, but increasingly they learn by project-managing.
“Graduates are managing alternative delivery models like offshoring and automation and learn that way, so there's a real focus on analytics, technical capabilities and project management, and honing and refining their professional judgement.”
To play a role in creating job-ready graduates, Deloitte tries to bring young staff into the workforce as early as possible.
“If we can get them in the first year of university or even earlier, we can start exposing them to a commercial environment, teaching them skills and giving them access to work. By the time they finish tertiary education or their chosen educational path, they're indoctrinated into the workforce,” says Lloyd.
“If enterprises aren't playing that role, we're not going to get where we need to, to build the workforce of the future,” she adds.
The message for CFOs is to focus on identifying new graduates to bring into the business who have advanced data and analytical capabilities.
Finance teams need to develop people who can draw insights from data sets, to help ensure the business can use data effectively to make good business decisions now and into the future.
- Junior staff may benefit from doing entry-level tasks if they provide them with skills and cultural memory in the business.
- As the types of work tasks continue to change, businesses can explore ways to prepare junior staff for the workplace of tomorrow.
- Rotating young staff through a variety of different roles may give them a wider range of skills and experiences.