Andy Coe, head of client services at Graylink, guides companies on how to develop their strategies, articulate their employment brands, deploy recruitment software and build in-house capability to attract and recruit the right talent.
It’s happening. Millennials are steadily overtaking older staff as South Africa’s largest representative generation of workers, introducing an entirely new mindset that businesses will have to master to recruit and retain the new workforce.
In the US, Millennials are defined as people born between 1980 and 2000. South African Millennials – or “Afrillennials” as a Student Village study has named them – were born from 1990 onwards, and have been influenced by major local cultural, political and economic shifts.
Afrillennials aged 16 to 26 currently make up almost 10% of all employed workers. By 2025, this group together with the new batch of young workers will add up to nearly 40% of the workforce. By 2030, the original group and their successors will make up about 75% of all staff.
But Afrillennials have completely different needs and expectations of the workplace than previous generations, which will require new thinking to attract and integrate them.
Afrillennials grew up with TV, internet and cell phones. If there’s a tech shortcut, they’ll find it to work smarter. They also want a more flexible work environment, says Student Village.
As the first born-free generation after Apartheid, Afrillennials are sensitive to social cohesion, the study says. Their openness to other cultures make them best positioned to create cultural harmony at work. Afrillennials want to be part of the solution and make a positive difference. They’d also love to travel and work overseas, but most want to return home.
Afrillennials value getting the right degree to land a high-paying job at a big, well respected, global company, says Student Village. They want it all – rapid career growth, the best tech, perks and work-life balance – and they want it now (YOLO, you only live once). With parents who grew up in an expanding economy and gave their kids a lot, Afrillennials are also very ambitious.
But the study finds they’re also scared to fail and very risk averse when making big decisions. They need lots of mentorship and feedback. They feel weighed down by Ubuntu tax (contributing financially to their families) and they dream about financial independence.
There’s a lot companies can offer Afrillennials. Many already have the right social initiatives in place, and as businesses move into Africa, there are more opportunities for international work and travel. But, this isn’t always mentioned in recruitment advertising.
Companies still use a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment and don’t think enough about audience segmentation. While companies have put particular thought into graduate recruitment, they treat all other job seekers as the same.
They need to segment audiences according to demographics like age, motivation and values to understand their triggers and share the right message through the best channel. This is especially key with Afrillennials as they’re so different from preceding generations.
The other big factor is how companies integrate Afrillennials once they get to the workplace. Young workers will migrate to environments where they feel most comfortable. If they come up against old ways of treating staff, they won’t stay. The two worlds need to come together, but how are companies reshaping their business at different levels to hold on to them?
Instead of focusing career page messaging and job adverts on purely rational messaging, companies should engage Afrillennials via motivational triggers at an emotional level – the values of the business, what it’s contributing to society, and what exciting projects they’ll get to action. The chance to be exposed to new things, developed and grow their networks is very important to Afrillennials.
Google, AirBnB, Facebook and L’Oreal really get the emotional triggers right. They’re also good at using more engaging kinds of media, like videos testimonials.
The work environment and how it operates is also important – how the office is laid out, what equipment’s available, what flexibility is available in working hours, and can they work remotely. The space should feel more like home with recreational areas, but have all the functionality of an office. Open plan is good as long as there are quiet spaces to get work done.

Where to start the process
Begin with your scarce skills areas. Get a few Afrillennial high-performers that fit your culture and conduct a profiling exercise with them by asking a lot of questions: what media do you consume; what influences your decisions what kind of messages would attract you into a job; what keywords would you use in your search; what is it about a company that would most attract you?
Once you understand them, it will be easier to create a recruitment advertisement that includes both the rational and emotional aspects that would appeal to an Afrillennial. You’ll also be in a better position to select the right channels, most appropriate to Afrillennials.

Meeting of the minds
Everyone’s still grappling with how different Afrillennials are, which can lead to a lot of tension in the workplace. If you take the time to understand Afrillennials and start working internally with some of the key messages, you can start moving towards this younger generation.
Attracting the best Afrillennails in South Africa’s scarce skills market and integrating them is a priority since they’ll make up such a big part of the future workforce. If you don’t start now, you’re going to run out of time to prepare.