Issue 50

Generational Employability

Diana Costa
Administrative Coordinator @ Azimut Happy Employees


The coexistence of generations in the labor market seems to be a complex issue in the recent years. Specialists studied, and then tested the issue, but the general picture often leaves us with question marks when it comes to its applicability in our daily life. Certainly, it is understandable that, when talking about four different generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and the most recent, Generation Z), the principles which apply in our everyday life or at the office could be different.

Given these four generations, a series of questions has been raised. How do different generations see employability? What does employability mean for them? What skills do we need to be hired? And the final question that we are going to tackle throughout the article is: What are the differences (if any) in the way employability is perceived among three generations, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y? Generation Z has only recently become active on the market.

First, what is employability? What does this term mean? In 2007, Arnold and Rothwell defined employability as the perception of one's individual capability alongside the perception of employment context variables, such as labor market changes, organizational changes and demand for occupation. Moreover, Hillage and Pollard add that the perceptions attached to employability are defined as an individual's perceptions of the characteristics which allow him or her to be proactive and changeable in his or her career.

Different generations, different perceptions. Different perceptions, different processes. This is the source of the different views the three generations have on employability. As already mentioned, each generation starts with a set of qualities that, in its perception, make the representatives of that generation employable. Psychological literature suggests that members of Generation X and Y have a higher perception of employability, compared to Baby Boomers. Compared to Baby Boomers, individuals from generation X and Y are seen as people who need more feedback, spend less time in a position/job and feel less commitment to the organization. These factors are closely related to employability. In one study, Zmeke and his collaborators suggested that individuals in Generation Y, who are now ending their studies and enter the labor market, adapt more easily than individuals in Generation X and Baby Boomers. Furthermore, the literature shows that Generation Y lays greater emphasis on inside focus when it comes to their career. Because of globalization and the upward evolution of technology, members of Generation Y are thought to be more successful in terms of technology, than the other generations.

When addressing the qualities that the three generations bring forth, Zmeke says Generation Y is characterized as being more optimistic that Generation X or Baby Boomers, a characteristic that correlates with a person's employability. To get a clearer overview, we will exhibit the qualities that make an individual employable. Other factors that define employability are the values encountered in the workplace, work preferences and labor characteristics.

As we can see, among the factors listed in the table above, which complete the individual's perception of employability, the qualities, the characteristics or work preferences are unique, individualized and form a strong contrast between generations when it comes to the labor market. There are only a few factors that are similar across these generations because the personal style forms and grows with age. Therefore, the perceptions these generations have on employability refer to the "attributes" required at each stage, such as career identity, human and social capital.

If Generation X perceives employability negatively, Generation Y perceives employability with optimism, in a positive light. Baby Boomers have a far more negative perception of employability, compared to Generation Y and Generation X. Perceptions change and include different forms. Therefore, what this means for those who are already in the labor market and who are already recruiting new people, is that difficulties will arise in adapting to each generation's style. Problems also occur when it comes to policy or work style orientation because it is here that the differences among generations are easily observable.




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