Is BYOPC Really Key to Attracting Millennials?

Generation YThere is a growing chatter about the idea that businesses should provide staff with a free choice of PC technology (including Windows, Mac, Linux, or other devices), and indeed that staff should be given a cash allowance (at Citrix, for example, the allowance is $2100) to purchase and use their own PC for company and personal use.

Many claims are made to support this so called Bring Your Own PC (BYOPC) approach – although they seem mostly, if not only, to originate from vendors (notably desktop virtualization and application virtualization vendors) that have a vested commercial interest in its success. I disagree with many of these claims (especially the questionable claims of cost reduction), but I do agree that BYOPC can have some benefits.

However, one of the many claims in support of BYOPC is that it will help organizations to attract and retain an important demographic of young, technologically sophisticated employees – the so-called ‘millennials’,  ‘echo boomers’, ‘generation next’, or ‘generation Y’, all loose terms generally used to describe people aged between 18 and 35 years old.

“Millennials should be happy to simply get a job offer, let alone one that comes with a shiny new MacBook”

Personally, I find this claim to be absurd.

My main issue with this claim is the implicit assumption that millennials have such a strong choice in their employment options that issues like what type of operating system they use, or what device they work on, can be significant decision factors in whether or not to accept a job offer.

This flies in the face of unemployment statistics that suggest, today more than ever, millennials simply do not have this level of choice. Put plainly, in the near term millennials should be happy to simply get a job offer, let alone one that comes with over $2000 to buy themselves a shiny new MacBook Air.

Specifically, data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (see chart below) shows that in fourth quarter of 2009, unemployment for 18-35 year olds was on average 17%. For males specifically, this was on average 25%, and as high as 30% (for males, 18-19 y.o). Compare this to the national average for ages 35 and above – 8% for the general population, and 9% for males – and you can see that this demographic does not exactly have abundant bargaining power on the job market.

Unemployment by age, sex, marital status 2006-2009 (BLS)

Unemployment by age, sex, marital status 2006-2009 (Source: BLS)

Perhaps this will change over time, but as the chart above shows, unemployment for millennials has been trending up, not just since the onset of the recession around the end of 2008, but at least since 2006. It may (and hopefully will) come down dramatically, improving millenials’ bargaining power for employment, but there is no sign that this is happening, or that it will happen anytime soon. And remember, when we are looking at BYOPC it is not only for technology workers, but also (perhaps primarily) for knowledge workers across many fields – sales, finance, management, R&D, etc. – so any specific skill shortages in IT that may skew millennials’ bargaining power do not really come into play.

Of course, there are probably nuances here that a behavioural statistician would find and explain much better than I can – granular variations by age, education, location, industry, and more. For example, unemployment among slightly older millennials aged 25 to 34, many of whom presumably have college degrees, is much lower than millennials aged 18 to 24. Yet at over 10% unemployment, even this group still has an unemployment rate several percentage points higher than ages 35 and up (just under 8%).

However, I do not see any promoters of BYOPC incorporating such detailed demographic analysis to substantiate their claims for BYOPC; rather, most seem to just be making unsubstantiated claims using baseless assumptions about millennials’ employment ‘needs’ without even considering widely available independent data that substantially undermines their position.

Sure, there are studies that suggest, for example, that millennials consider “state-of-the-art technology is an important consideration in selecting an employer.” However, the most credible of these studies was conducted prior to the global economic downturn, when unemployment among 18-35 year olds was just 9-10% – almost half what it is today. In any case, an organization does not need a BYOPC program simply to provide state-of-the-art technology. If an employer gives a millennial employee a top-of-the-line company-owned Dell, HP, Lenovo, Sony, or Apple laptop, would they turn the job down just because they cannot buy it themselves?

“An organization does not need a BYOPC program to provide state-of-the-art technology”

So based on a cursory analysis of recent, credible, and available data, the idea that a young person would turn down a job in this economic climate, simply because they can’t get their preferred laptop or mobile device seems to me quite ridiculous. At best, it may help companies attract the very top tier of millennial graduates who do have multiple job offers to choose from, but I expect this would still be the least of the considerations of 18-35 year olds. Even for the best of them, this likely pales compared to significant concerns about compensation, vacation and holidays, health care, education support, flexible hours, corporate ethics, retirement funding, work-life balance, telecommuting, career opportunities, and more.

This then has significant implications for CIOs and others looking at BYOPC. Despite the validity (or otherwise) of any other claims in favour of BYOPC, no organization should be looking to BYOPC to attract and retain staff from the echo boom generation. They would be better off looking at a dozen or more other important factors than spending the significant time, effort, and money on implementing a BYOPC program.

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