Generation Y - the most educated and tech-savvy generation yet

Prof Eldrie Gouws (Ph.D, Psychology of Education)


Generation Y (also known as the Millennials) makes up the fastest growing segment of the workforce with numbers estimated as high as 80 million or more. Born between 1980 and the end of 1994, they are a generation of people who know more about technology than their parents, and in most cases, their lecturers and managers at work. The Millennials are one of the most educated generations yet, and they love to learn, but on their terms.

Characteristics of Generation Y

There are two major characteristics of the Millennial group:

  • They are extremely independent because of their experiences of divorce, day care, being raised by single parents, and the technological revolution that they are growing up in; and
  • They feel empowered. The wealth of information that can be accessed in seconds on the internet, has given Generation Y members the notion that if they do not get what they want from one source, they can immediately go to another.

Generation Y and their parents

Generation Y is being raised in the age of the 'active parent' and especially fathers have entered the child-rearing equation. Unlike Generation X that came before them, these children are not left to make key decisions on their own. Parents are involved in the daily lives and decisions of Generation Y. The secure feeling attained by strong parental involvement makes the members of Generation Y believe they can accomplish almost anything, and if they don't, they can always go back home and get help and support. From a young age, Generation Y is told, through both the media and home, that they can have it all. This generation has a strong sense of entitlement. Striving for a quality of life only known by the rich and famous, wanting the best and thinking they deserve it, makes Generation Y driven and ambitious.

Generation Y and technology

Growing up in the age of technology has put a computer or cell phone in the hands of almost every school going child. Adolescents are mostly socialising and communicating through cell phones and the internet.

Adolescent devotion to music has not changed over time, what has changed is how they listen to music. The development of the iPod and other MP3 players and the fact that they can listen to music on a mobile phone or laptop has enabled them to spend more time listing to music than ever before.

At least six million South Africans are mobile internet users, with 39% of urban and 27% of rural phone users aged 16 and older accessing the internet from their mobile phones. The wealth of information that can be accessed in seconds on the internet has empowered Generation Y immensely.

Generation Y in the workplace

When it comes to the workplace, Millennials are a powerful and creative force. They like their jobs to be defined, but don't micromanage them. By fostering a work environment that is suitable to this generation's needs, employers can expect superior output and tremendous value from this young, growing workforce. Keep the following in mind - Generation Y is:


They don't recall life before the internet. They grew up with technology, and rely on it to perform their jobs better. Armed with smartphones, laptops, and other gadgets, this generation is plugged in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They like to communicate through email and text messaging rather than face-to-face contact and prefer webinars and online technology to traditional lecture-based presentations.


The fast track has lost much of its appeal for Millennials, whose members are willing to trade high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules, and better work/life balances. Although older generations may view this as a lack of commitment, discipline, and drive, Generation Y professionals have a different vision of workplace expectations. They often prioritize family over work.


Nurtured and pampered by parents who didn't want to make the mistakes of the previous generation, Millennials are confident, ambitious, and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers. They seek new challenges and aren't afraid to question authority.  They want meaningful work and a solid learning curve.


Generation Y participated in team sports, play groups and other group activities as children. They value teamwork and seek the input and affirmation of others. They're a no-person-left-behind generation - loyal and committed. They want to be included and involved.

Craves attention

Generation Y craves feedback and guidance. They appreciate being kept in the loop and often need frequent praise and reassurance. Millennials may benefit greatly from mentors who can help guide and develop their talents.

Prone to job-hopping

A potential downside of Generation Y workers is that they're always looking for something new and better. It's not uncommon for them to stay with a firm for only two to three years before moving on to positions they think are better. Don't discount members of this generation just because they've worked for several firms - they bring with them a variety of experiences.


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