Preparing Gen Y students to lead tomorrow’s digital world

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Many employers assume Generation Y students have an innate digital know-how and leave university ready to apply these skills at work. But just because they are young, connected and have grown up with technology doesn’t mean millennials are prepared as future digital leaders.

Where does the skills gap lie? 

Many students we’ve worked with don’t have a clear definition of ‘digital’; they think it refers to physical devices. When we asked a group to list digital brands they cited two services – Facebook and Twitter. They quoted mostly tangible products such as smartphones.  

They often don’t understand the economic models of the digital economy and the societal implications. The growth of new players such as Uber and Airbnb is usually seen positively by millennials, without a clear understanding of their impact on traditional industries.   

Many students assume future jobs are in start-ups or large tech companies, rather than traditional businesses that need digital transformation – banks and insurance, retailers, public transport or public services. 

The role of business schools 

Business schools must help students better understand these aspects if we want them to be tomorrow’s 'digital transformers'. Here are four tips for training Gen Y to lead in a digital world: 

1. Build students’ knowledge of the digital economy 

Business schools need to show students that the digital economy is made up of both specific players 'born with the web' and traditional companies that must transform their business models and customer relationships practices. 

Take Uber, for example, which is creating new services that better serve our individual needs but in doing has generated new competition for taxi drivers. Younger generations must understand how traditional businesses can compete and adapt

At GEM (Grenoble Ecole de Management) we organise an annual meeting – the Digital Day – to share explanations with our students about the digital economy, job opportunities and how digital transformation works.

2. Raise awareness of job opportunities 

This is all about transformation: students must understand how digital technologies have and will impact traditional jobs. A future HR manager will need to participate in the development of new digital services for people management, training and working. 

Helping students understand digital transformation and the types of jobs required is crucial.  

3. Exploit their digital skills

Business schools need to engage their students in co-producing digital content and tools. This could be something as simple as getting them to create a blog, to developing serious games or massive online open courses (MOOCs) that respond to a company’s needs.

I used an interactive approach to create my blog with my Masters students. Having given them specifications and deadlines, the students handled all aspects of social media, web design, copywriting and video interviews for the website. 

This type of project fulfils the students' appetite for digital work and their search for recognition (each student bylined the articles or received credit for the videos they created). 

4. Help students analyse their digital habits

Younger generations struggle to analyse their digital habits. At GEM we run workshops to help students understand the impact of their digital behaviour and measure the extent to which they are connected. 

We must help future generations disengage from their hyper-connected lifestyles and develop better time management skills. By asking students to analyse their digital habits, business schools can help them use these channels to their best advantage so that they become active digital leaders in tomorrow’s world, rather than simply consumers. 

Benoît Meyronin is associate dean (business development & transformation) at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM)

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