Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
2nd Apr 2013

Generation Y poised to bring permanent change

Getting ahead of the curve and discerning the future direction of millennial, or Generation Y, trends is a task made exceedingly difficult by the group’s general technological literacy and resistance to marketing, but today, ICEF Monitor takes a look at some of these emerging trends, especially those that impact on the international education sector.

At one with their mobile devices

To call each generation more tech savvy than the last may be the understatement of the digital age. Consider these statistics:

  • The retail site Angiolotty uncovered data suggesting that among children 2 to 5 years of age who have Internet access at home, more know how to play a computer game and use a smartphone than know how to ride a bike or tie their shoelaces.
  • As of 2012, millennials owned more than half of all tablet computers.
  • A recent Cisco survey revealed that, globally, about 20% of millennials check their smartphones at least every 10 minutes. In the US, it’s 40%. (See the infographic below for more stats)
  • Globally, one-third of millennials check their smartphones at least every 30 minutes. In the US, it’s more than 50%.

Smartphones are conduits through which nearly every aspect of millennials’ lives flow. Recent surveys show that making calls has now fallen to the fifth most frequent form of usage for a smartphone. The rankings are as follows, in time per day:

  • Internet: 24 mins 49 secs
  • Social media: 17 mins 29 secs
  • Music: 15 mins 38 secs
  • Games: 14 mins 26 secs
  • Phone calls: 12 mins 06 secs
  • Emails: 11 mins 06 secs
  • Texts: 10 mins 12 secs
  • TV/Film: 09 mins 23 secs
  • Books: 09 mins 22 secs
  • Camera: 03 mins 28 secs

The pervasiveness of smartphones naturally means that they have become part of the campus fabric, but as discussed previously on ICEF Monitor, student demand for classroom use of mobile technology, particularly tablet computers, outpaces the rate at which institutions are officially adopting it. There is still much debate as to how to use technology in the classroom, with a recent survey showing that many teachers in the US and Germany say they don’t receive enough technology training, particularly when compared to China. And students don’t just want technology to be used during class hours - they want academic information and course material to be constantly available via their mobile devices, something educators need to bear in mind both for prospective and current students. For example, studies have shown that 52% of prospective students had used a mobile phone or tablet to view a college or university website, but worryingly, less than half of US four-year institutions have a website that is optimised for mobile browsing. Students’ needs for constant connectivity can be fulfilled via interactive webpages such as virtual tours, using mobile apps for recruitment, and maintaining social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, and regional networks.

How do you market to people who have seen everything?

How schools and universities leverage social interfaces is, of course, an ongoing challenge. For example, only 4% of Americans aged 15 to 25 think that a Facebook product page is a credible source of information about the product. However Facebook’s expansion into non-Western markets is far from complete, which means it’s still a valuable tool. Even as growing percentages of Americans say they intend to use the site less in 2013, and 600,000 Britons dropped out in December, it continues to experience growth globally. In the US and Europe, other online interfaces such as Tumblr, Digg, Instagram and Pinterest are growing quickly. All of these have simplicity or brevity in common, but more crucially they embody the millennial ideals of sharing, whereas Facebook is seen as a place for boasting. As theverge.com put it recently:

"The days over-sharing may have passed, and bragging online isn't as fun as it used to be."

And as more and more US college admissions officials and employers review social media profiles, there is a risk that students will alter the way they use certain platforms. Transparency is another key. Millennials want to know who is behind the curtain, and to whom information ultimately flows. Given their aversion to overt advertising, the most reliable source of product or service endorsement is word-of-mouth from peers. The most popular categories, according to Insites Consulting, are posts in online forums and blogs (22%), endorsement by friends (14%), and the opinion of other brand users (20%).

For learning institutions and recruiters, it’s key to remember that millennials understand their role as a commodity. They know you need them. Though track record is meaningful, millennials also want to be sold on current and future plans and be convinced that these relate to their personal vision for the future. They want to be prepared for positions in industries that may not even exist yet.

Millennial visions for the future

Researchers are digging deeper into the millennial generation each day. In Europe, Bielefeld University is coordinating an EU project called SocIEtY, in which 40 social scientists and 13 partners from 11 European countries will be carrying out comparative national studies seeking to find out what young people consider necessary to live a successful life. But some facts are already clear:

A major facet of millennial thinking revolves around the concept of control. Millennials want to control their own information, educational attainment, and career direction. They retreat from any attempt to prevent these goals. They believe in the value of traditional education, but see other vehicles as potentially viable. They appreciate unexpected methods and experiences.

Those other methods may include different classroom techniques such as gamification, but also new delivery platforms allowing them to consume pieces of curriculum on their terms. The rapidly expanding choices in MOOCs fit into this context. Furthermore, the millennial approach to schooling is predicted to transform the workplace. Barriers to women attaining leadership roles will decrease, top-down leadership will decline, and dispersed or virtual offices will become more common, so much so that a recent Citrix report on the future workplace predicts offices housing only 6 desks for every 10 workers. Other workplace changes will include a decline of email and meetings in favor of instant messaging, a results-only work environment, and an expansion of communalism in the form of regular, immediate social feedback on each employee’s daily production.

Change will come, wanted or not

While some observers are wary of change, and others predict that millennial values cannot succeed in the real world, the sheer demographic mass of the generation ensures that change will happen regardless.

Millennials are the largest generation ever, and they will be the best educated as well. A group of such size and with such education has no choice but to have an impact.

Millennials are different from every generation that came before them. In life, school, and work, they are said to see things from a different perspective. But perhaps this is only true in the specifics. In the broad sense, millennials want the same thing each new generation wants: a world that suits them better than the one they inherited. For more statistics on 18-30 year olds in 18 different countries, see the infographic below based on Cisco's survey mentioned earlier in this article: generation-y-tech-habits

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