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Millennial Voices

By Federico Mazzella ,
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INTAL/IDB presented its study “The Millennial Beat. Generation Y in the Age of Integration 4.0. How Young Argentinians View Technology, the Future of Work, and Trade Ties with Latin America.”

With the aim of generating knowledge and contributing to analyses of the future of employment, technological change, and regional integration, INTAL/IDB has carried out a research project entitled “The Millennial Beat. Generation Y in the Age of Integration 4.0,” the main findings of which were presented on July 5, 2017, in Buenos Aires.

Click here to download the entire publication (link in Spanish).

The survey was carried out by the consultancy firm Voices! and INTAL/IDB and covered employment and education, values, expectations, views on Latin America and regional integration, the use of technology, and skills in relation to young people in Argentina. It was based on 600 door-to-door surveys of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 from different socioeconomic backgrounds who live in Argentina’s main urban centers. This methodology was complemented by focus groups and in-depth interviews.

“The challenge that Latin America is up against when analyzing this problem is one of social equality. Whether robots will destroy, replace, or create jobs in our region is no small matter: Latin America is the most unequal region on earth, so we need to tackle these issues using new strategies. We need to start discussing a new sociotechnological contract that points technology in a social direction and diversifies the region’s export matrix. At present, the productive matrix revolves around a series of jobs that run the risk of being automated in the near future,” said INTAL/IDB director Gustavo Beliz at the start of the event.

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Ana Inés Basco, an integration specialist at INTAL/IDB, and Voices! director Marita Carballo then presented the main findings and conclusions from the project.

The study found that 64% of millennials support trade integration with Latin America. Regardless of their ideological leanings, young people have a very positive image of the continent and strongly support the government promoting trade integration initiatives within the region. “However, they think that social limits should be placed on these processes: the importation of goods and services and immigration policies should be implemented with a view to preserving local jobs,” Ms. Basco advised. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 stands for “I completely disagree” and 10 represents “I completely agree,” millennials scored an average 7.2 in favor of the government promoting greater trade integration between Argentina and the rest of Latin America.

Latin America is also the region in the world that the young people interviewed viewed in the most positive light—54% of respondents rated it above other regions. This positive outlook was not affected by respondents’ ideological outlooks.

Regarding the use of technology, although 93% of the young people interviewed owned a cell phone with internet access, 54% do not use technology as part of their jobs. Technology—particularly the internet, mobile phones, and social networks—is an integral part of life for young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, who mainly use these platforms and devices for entertainment and socializing. “However, technology is used less in the world of work, for training, to access information, for e-commerce, and for collaborative purposes, except among a small group of young people from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds,” Ms. Basco expained.

In other words, changes in consumer habits towards new online options are still in their infancy: e-commerce and sharing economy platforms only see limited use among millennials.

Only 25% of the young people included in the survey had used an online platform to buy or sell products in the previous month. Those most likely to have done so were males from a privileged socioeconomic background and those living in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA), who accounted for 40% of this group. Next were those who live in Greater Buenos Aires (25%), followed by those who live in the rest of Argentina (14.8%).

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Just 10% of respondents were open to acquiring new consumer habits within the sharing economy, such as buying less and hiring more (for example renting clothes and cars rather than buying them). “The notion of private property is still firmly rooted in this generation,” Ms. Basco observed.

Another defining feature of Argentinian millennials is their distrust of exponential change and institutions. For example, only 25% are open to adopting new technologies. “Millennials are very cautious about the possibility of traveling in driverless vehicles, being operated on remotely or by a robot, or eating artificial meat. They are also reluctant to adopt other habits such as paying their bills online, paying by credit card rather than cash, or voting electronically.”

Respondents were optimistic about their own futures: 7 out of every 10 believe that their lives will be better than those of their parents. “Although they admit that technology and robotics may replace jobs, young people have high levels of optimism, self-esteem, and confidence in themselves. They think that tomorrow’s world will be better.”

Ms. Basco summed up the findings of the survey by saying that “young people from Argentina are not yet on board with the transformation of production patterns. The challenge is helping them do so without neglecting social equality and the gender gap.”

Marita Carballo stressed that this INTAL/IDB study is representative of the population as a whole. As she pointed out, “7 out of every 10 young people are employed. What they are looking for in a job is to combine formal employment with flexibility and autonomy. In other words, they want good contract conditions, a good salary, social security cover, and medical insurance, but they also want enough independence to ensure a good work-life balance.” Regarding the automation of the labor market, she said that “despite the widespread idea that robots will soon carry out most of the work that humans currently do, only 25% of the respondents were afraid that their job would be replaced in the future.”

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Cell phones are the device that millennials use the most. “About 93% of millennials have a cell phone with internet access and they spend an average four hours a day texting and three hours a day on the web. They mainly use the internet for socializing, as a way of connecting to their friends and family. They also use it for studying or working, but to a lesser extent,” Ms. Carballo said. “But they prefer the off-line world and face-to-face relationships,” she added. The most popular social network is Facebook, which 97% said they used, followed by YouTube (63%), Instagram (49%), and Google+ (45%).

“The majority think that health and education are the two areas that stand to benefit the most from science and technological innovation, but they are less confident about the role that these will play in narrowing the inequality gap or improving citizen security,” Ms. Carballo observed.

“Millennials are a very disparate group,” she concluded. “To understand them better and to design effective policies, we need to look at this entire generation, which represents our country’s future. These young people trust in their own skills and believe that they will have a better quality of life than their parents. This is true across the socioeconomic spectrum. Millennials are optimistic about the future.”

Discussion

After the presentation of the main findings of the survey came a discussion chaired by Mr. Beliz which also included Laura Briano, Human Resources Service Delivery Lead for Latin America for the consultancy firm Accenture, and Andrei Vazhnov, academic director at the Baikal Institute. The two gave their opinions on the role that Latin America is playing in the development of global technology services and the skills its inhabitants need to find jobs in this industry.

“Latin America is really positioning itself in the world as a region with technological talent. There are different factors that play a part in this, such as its geographical location in a time zone that is ideal for providing services to the United States and Western Europe,” Ms. Briana argued. “Education levels in Argentina are particularly high and its universities are known to be excellent, so the country has a reputation for talent. Another factor that helps in working with the rest of the world is that many people speak English, and the fact that it has a large immigrant population means that there are also people who speak another second or third language, such as Portuguese, Mandarin, German, or French. Our history has enabled us to work well in grey areas and in an unstructured fashion, and that flexibility is really valued,” she said. “At Accenture, we believe that Argentina is an important center for developing new technologies and providing services with high value added at a reasonable cost.”

In reference to the skills that young people need to develop, Ms. Briano drew attention to “mental agility and the ability to learn quickly, because the fact is that everything we learn and know today may not be useful in 10 years’ time. Flexibility and the ability to learn new things is of paramount importance.”

“In the era of robotization, being able to relate to others will really be valued,” Mr. Vazhnov added. He discussed the idea of the “self-programmable worker,” which refers to people who have the ability and attitude to engage in learning continually and independently. “This is a key skill that adds enormous value, but very few people currently have it,” he admitted.

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Vazhnov also discussed the challenges that the country is facing in terms of diversifying its productive matrix. In his view, public policies should focus on a 10- to 20-year period and seek to “strengthen the foundations of each country’s competitive advantages.” In Argentina, this would imply “using more technology in the world of agriculture and natural resources,” he argued. He added that exports of software services, including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics, and activities related to producing entertainment are other possible areas for economic diversification. “We need to understand that technology is now part of every sector,” he said.

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