There are a lot of articles written about Millennials (also known as Gen Y). It seems like they are either the worst generation because they are lazy, selfish, and expect too much; or, they are the best generation because they are tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and socially conscious. What I’m really interested in is this: how can this generation productively shape the future? How can the good (and even the bad) of this generation be used to advance our society?
Since I’m right on the cusp, I can never remember whether I am X or Y so I spent a little time researching the birth years. It’s like the Internet could read my mind because I stumbled upon a quiz titled ‘How Millennial are you?’. I scored 52, which apparently means I’m an average Millennial. Since I wasn’t tech-savvy enough to figure out what 52 means, I seriously question if I’m very Millennial at all. I considered this week victorious because I figured out how to schedule my tweets via Hootsuite today… three years after forming my Twitter account. Yep, I’m a little behind my peers.
Anyway, back on track. The definition of what birth years make up each generation differs based on organization. This is how Pew Research Center classifies each generation:
- Silent: 1928 – 1945
- Baby Boomer: 1946 – 1964
- Gen X: 1965 – 1980
- Gen Y/Millennial: 1981 + (they list ‘+’ on their website, but it’s generally accepted that it extends through 2000)
The typical Millennial is considered tech-savvy, team-oriented and socially conscious. According to the Ivey Business Journal, 70% say giving back and being civically engaged is one of their highest priorities. This is an area where I am strongly Millennial. I have worked at companies that were genuinely involved in their community, and I have worked for a company where my boss told me to take a vacation day if I wanted to participate in the Habitat for Humanity company event. It is important to me to work for a company, and to some extent a boss, with values that align closely to mine.
The less desirable traits associated with Millennials are: they seek instant gratification, have short attention spans, are demanding, and are too comfortable sharing (I am definitely a ‘sharer’). Their use of social media typically leads them to have two personalities – an online persona and a real-life persona. It can be easier to express themselves in writing than verbally so their online persona is typically more expressive and witty. (So that’s why online dating profiles don’t usually match up with the person in real life!) This reliance on technology can make it difficult to close generational gaps with coworkers because older generations, like the Baby Boomers, are typically more comfortable with face-to-face interaction.
By 2020, Millennials will make up 40-50% of our workforce. What does this mean? How can this generation shape our future?
Millennials can help close our technical skill gap.
The US has a labor shortage for jobs requiring technical skills. We will face a shortage of 224,000 hi-tech workers by 2018. These are the kinds of jobs we need in the US to invent or develop products that employ thousands of people to manufacture, market and support the product.
Even though Millennials have a low % of student enrolled in STEM programs, they are the most well-educated generation, they are tech-savvy, and entrepreneurial. These three characteristics will help us continue to innovate. I will write a post separate post at some point about the importance of students enrolling in STEM programs. I agree there are risks associated with having low involvement in STEM programs, but I believe other characteristics of Millennials will help us mitigate some of the risks. Mark Zuckerberg is the perfect Millennial example of a tech-savvy entrepreneur who came up with an innovative new product.
Companies will need to become more socially responsible to attract top talent.
Millennials are demanding, socially-conscious, and will make up half the workforce in less than 10 years. This is the ‘everyone wins a trophy’ generation, which isn’t necessarily bad because they are a group of people who feel personally responsible for making their community a better place. There are a lot of companies that already prioritize corporate citizenship. One of my former employers allowed employees up to five days of each year to volunteer, which was in addition to the many volunteer activities offered at work during the year. Millennials will drive this to be the majority of businesses (maybe not this specific policy, but you know what I mean… hopefully).
The workplace will become more flexible.
Millennials want flexible work hours. Obviously, this will happen within reason. Companies will still need to ensure people are available when customers need them. However, what this could mean is location of work becomes more flexible. Telecommuting increased 61% in the US between 2005 and 2009 and it continues to increase.
Each generation has probably changed the workplace significantly in their own way. The interesting situation with this generation is technology is advancing at a very fast rate. It is now easier and cheaper than ever to find ways to be your own boss. Many Millennials are underemployed or unemployed because they don’t have the experience required to get a job in their field.
We will need to overcome the short attention spans and need for instant gratification if we truly want to achieve our full potential, but overall I am optimistic about how this generation can shape our future. The combination of a creative, tech-savvy group of people who need to make a living could lead to some interesting developments over the next few years.
Your thoughts and comments about the generations are appreciated.