Skip to main content

“The way we work will never go back to the way it was.”

05 May 2020 | Advance HE In his keynote speech at our first ever online Surveys and Insights Conference last week, Dr Paul Redmond from The University of Liverpool discusses the impact of Covid-19, generational differences and the challenges that universities have in engaging the millennial generation

For the first time ever there are now five separate generations in the workplace, all with extremely different characteristics. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomer, Generations X and Y and Millennials work and collaborate together despite the marked differences in how they see the world and communicate with one another.

In his role as Director of Student Experience and Enhancement, Paul sees the difficulty that universities have in engaging millennial students, who don’t see the world in the same way as their lecturers or those governing our HE institutions.

“Students of the future, will have access to ubiquitous technology and information. They will receive information about everything, from anywhere, anytime at unlimited speed. This can be a challenge for universities, which were designed on a 20th or even 19th century model of education.

“Millennials are responding differently and can be harder to engage. This can be seen by the number of students whose attendance falls off by second-year. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We mustn’t sentimentalise the past; instead, we need to learn from  organisations that have developed fantastic strategies for  engaging with this generation.”

Starting with 'why'

He believes that HE has to change if it wants to really engage with millennials and provoke a response from them.

“When engaging with millennials you have to start with ‘why’. In the workplace, they don’t understand why they need to be in the office at nine o’clock on the dot every day to use an out of date computer to do their work, and often, when I asked baby boomers why it was important they didn’t have an answer. It was just something they had always done.

“Organisations struggle with punctuality and presenteeism, because millennials simply don’t respond to it without a reason why.”

He does think however, that the current crisis could spark a sea-change in how institutions operate, for the better.

“The American composer, Eric Whitacre, is someone who has really embraced technology to create his ‘internet choir’. He brought together thousands of people across the world, who pre-recorded themselves singing, and put them on stage as a synchronised choir despite them not being in the room.

“To me that was a perfect metaphor for the communications of the future. Organisations could be anywhere, in any time-zone, sharing work without actually meeting. People may have thought it would never catch on but look at where we are now.

“Covid has sped up the evolution in the workplace and the way we work will never go back to the way it was.”

Future Shock

As such, he believes universities will need to be unusually adaptable and agile in the way they respond to the change.

“It was Alvin Toffler who coined the phrase ‘Future Shock’, meaning that when change is happening so quickly, people won’t be able to cope. How we respond to change is heavily dependent on our generation.”

In light of this, he explained universities need to seriously look at adapting the way they teach in order to engage young people in the future.

“Post-Covid we’ll have to be really agile to develop a blended learning approach. Don’t lose the experiential learning aspect and use techniques such as reverse mentoring more.”

Finally, he turned to how universities can  engage more effectively with students by learning from some of the world’s most successful brands – one of which is located just a few miles from the University of Liverpool.

“There’s an opportunity for universities to engage with students as ‘fans’ not merely ‘customers’. This current generation is not too dissimilar to baby boomers in this sense in that they want to be loyal and proud of where they study and work. If we want to engage with millennials we have to make them proud of being at our institutions, and that means trying new things and developing a spirit and culture.

“As Jürgen Klopp (Manager of Liverpool Football Club) said, ‘you can speak about spirit or live it’.”


Paul was speaking at our 2020 Surveys and Insights Conference, for information on our student experience and engagement surveys, UKES, SAES, PTES and PRES, visit our website.

Dr Paul Redmond is Director of Student Experience and Enhancement at The University of Liverpool and is responsible for the experience of 26000 students across all five generations.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

Keep up to date - Sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our enewsletter