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Youth is to celebrate diversity and the fact that people are not peas in a pod and that the jugnu that lights up one young person will be very different from what motivates another, even if they grew up in almost identical environments

Three data points to set the context for this piece. In the village where I spent my childhood, Tatisilwai in Ranchi District in Jharkhand, lives my best friend from the sixties, a man called Jamnadas Thakur (we used to call him Funtoosh). After losing contact since I went to college in the seventies, my wife and I went back to the village a few years ago to find him and after some efforts, we did find him. His young daughter’s interest in me, is, of course, only to know what mobile phone I use and getting me to help her get a device on which she can watch OTT movies. Simple needs but very clear about what she wants.

The second data point. Eight years ago, my Chief Marketing Officer, Lavanya, and I were sitting in my office in Zensar, Pune chatting with a small group of young employees in their twenties to understand what really motivated them and what we could do to increase their engagement with the organisation. This chat had two outcomes-my ninth book, co-authored with Lavanya, predictably titled “What Young People Really Want” and the commencement of a company-wide programme called Jugnu, co-designed by a favourite trainer, Arun Wakhlu. Jugnu linked the aspirations and wants of employees with the vision and aspirations of the organisation and has become the subject of many consulting exercises we do today in our companies 5F World and Global Talent Track.

The third and final data point is “The Great Resignation” where young people, not just in India but all over the world are leaving their jobs in droves, looking for organisations with better purpose, better work-life balance with Work from Home and extra days off and causing additional furrows to the brow of already hassled Human Resource Managers. Even in our social work at Lighthouse Communities, we find that slum youth do not want to be trained for traditional jobs, but expect that their agency will be awakened and the opportunity to choose their path given to them to ensure they join and stay in the right entity that can enable them to realise their dreams.

What does all this mean for senior people who are mentoring youth or trying to understand their children or grandchildren? A few thoughts for all to consider based on my decades of experience building organisations like APTECH, Zensar, and now both private sector and non-profit entities that employ very young people and help them to find their own place in the sun.

The first realisation is the obvious one that each young person is an individual in his/her own right and will not respond well to sermons like “When I was your age, I did this” or “If your friend X can do this so well, what’s wrong with you.” It is important to provide a free space where she is able to dream and articulate that dream without fear of presumptive judgment. The second suggestion is to celebrate diversity and the fact that people are not peas in a pod and the jugnu that lights up one young person will be very different from what motivates another, even if they grew up in almost identical environments. And finally, the world has moved beyond just engineering or medicine or the IAS being a great career, today, there is a plethora of opportunities in front of every career seeker or entrepreneur and if a young person is committed to success in a particular sphere of activity, they can succeed.

A learning platform we have been designing and implementing embodies some of these realisations. Skills Alpha first addresses the career goals of the individual learner and then sets them on a path to adaptive learning with a host of learning tools and support from peer groups, mentors and coaches, all available on the platform. This is a digital platform that acknowledges the unique individual each human being is, recognises the preferred learning style and content that will truly make them succeed and gives them hope for a better future if they engage with the recommended process. For young people, a recognition of their purpose and a serious effort to enable them to achieve their full potential will get them truly engaged emotionally with the cause that their family or organisation would like them to engage with-that is if the young person really wants that.

Finally, back to the topic of my village friend. I did an INK (TED equivalent) talk a few years ago on the topic “Funtoosh and the Beanstalk, where I spoke about the only difference between me and him being a beanstalk called education. These days, when formal education is being trashed by many and dropouts are being celebrated, it is good to remember that it is our education and subsequent experience that gets us to higher levels of aspiration and achievement. So, if your teen wants to be a disk jockey or fashion photographer because it seems like a less arduous learning curve, encourage them to think before they leap. They may still make that choice but only for the right reasons.