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Our verdict on the CIPD’s latest report: far too much generalisation about generations, more serious research required

by on June 3, 2015

The latest CIPD report “Developing the next generation” focuses on issues relating to youth unemployment, reported on their website under the headline: “Tech-savvy young people ‘dislike’ online training, CIPD research shows”

Sadly there are a confusing array of terms (such as young talent, younger generation as well as the generational cohort labels particularly generation Y and digital natives) peppered across the report.  This in itself should act as a warning to the reader.  It is particularly confusing when much of the report uses a common 16-24 age range for the term ‘young people’ which does not fit so neatly with the generational categorisations they also present.  While the CIPD highlights the need to ‘bust’ generational myths, I was disappointed that the report actually does very little in this regard, and this is particularly frustrating given the likely scope of readership.

An early part of the report poses the question ‘What does existing research tell us?’ but shows little evidence of a thorough literature review on the issues, and certainly a lack of attention to academic empirical studies.  This is again disappointing, particularly since the CIPD has the means to facilitate communication of such research to a practitioner based audience.  Here the focus is on identifying generations and describing attributes; an approach that has been widely criticised in academic reviews, including in our own publications (in the journals Organization Studies and Gender, Work and Organization for example).  Here the terms ‘young people’ and ‘Generation Y’ (sometimes also Generation Z) are used interchangeably without any attention to definitional issues.  They conclude “Our review of the literature indicates that Generation Y are a group of smart, ambitious and questioning fast-thinkers, able to multi-task” (p. 8).  Such a conclusion is reached with the sort of broad brush approach to a literature review would produce quite low marks for a student studying for an advanced level CIPD qualification.

The report does however provide some useful case examples and offers some insight based on a selective approach to research and the presentation of quotes (that are not really analysed in any depth) from a range of sources.  Sadly the overall result is a collection of sound bites that I doubt do justice to the case organisations concerned.  The quantitative data presented tends to draw on a survey of HR professionals being asked questions such as “what is the primary different you’ve seen in how young people like to learn?” (p. 23).  Such general questions and the constructed responses presented seem to reinforce stereotypes rather than get to the meat of the issues.

While it poses some interesting questions, this report fails to really get to grips with many of the key issues.  The advice presented to L&D practitioners is generally vague and poorly substantiated.  I feel that if the CIPD is going to get serious about issues of age in the workplace it needs to invest in more substantial and serious research in the future.

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