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How The Recession is Shaping Millennials at Work

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, Millennials have been hit hard by the recession – arguably harder than other generations. For example, unemployment is between two and three times higher for younger workers than for older ones.

Not only that, but Gen Y unemployment means a significant decrease in lifetime earning potential has also decreased. Thompson writes:

“For Millennials, it’s not just the money they’re not making today. It’s all the money they won’t make tomorrow. For every one-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate, new graduates’ starting income falls by 7 percent, according to Lisa Kahn, an economist at Yale.”

The reality of the economic environment has been difficult for everyone when it comes to personal finance. But how has it shaped the way Millennials perceive their careers?

Recession Impact

According to a recent report by Devry, “How the Recession Shaped Millennial and Hiring Manager Attitudes about Millennials’ Future Careers,” the recession has made a significant impact on how Gen Y sees career advancement and retention strategies.

It says:

“Young professionals watched in shock as hiring freezes and massive layoffs forced them into unemployment lines in record numbers. They began to recognize that having a good job was perhaps not a given, but a privilege. They have walked away with valuable lessons on what they need to do to succeed. Millennials appear to be taking the initiative to prove their worth to employers on a daily basis and honing their soft skills in the long term.”

For example, the study revealed, Millennials are taking a “pragmatic approach” when it comes to career planning, by pursuing more education, improving attractive job skills, and testing out multiple career paths. Interestingly hiring managers did not necessarily believe that Millennials were utilizing the best career strategies.

For example, 40% of Gen Y respondents said that “getting the proper education” was the most important factor in career preparation. Yet only 28% of managers said the same.

The Devry researchers believe that this comes down to a matter of differing life experiences. They write:

“Because managers used means other than obtaining a higher degree to get ahead in the workplace, they may not view education as a key step for Millennials to advance their careers. Managers also have more work experience than Millennials, and they have seen that there is more than one way to achieve career success.”

Interestingly, the report showed that Millennials were less interested in mentoring than managers were. According to the study only 20% placed “setting goals with managers” within their top three strategies for advancement. Yet 39% of managers said it should be.

Moving Forward

Boston College research has estimated that by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be made up of Gen Y employees. What does this mean for companies moving out of the recession?

According to the Devry study, going forward most respondents believe that the future will mean more job transitions. Eighty-one percent of both Millennials and managers said Millennials will hold more jobs and careers than previous generations. Half of Millennial respondents expected more non-traditional hours and 37% expected more telecommuting.

The study also highlighted the importance to Gen Y of doing meaningful work, which has been suggested elsewhere as well. But what was surprising was that many managers still do not believe this is the case. According to the study, 71% said “meaningful work” was in the top three factors for a successful career, and 30% said it was the most important factor.

Yet, only 11% of managers said meaningful work was the most important factor in Millennial career success.

Are Millennials simply so young and idealistic that their career motivations will change as they get older, or are managers missing something when it comes to the motivations of their youngest workers? Both are possible. But so many Gen Y respondents revealed a pragmatic approach to career development by highlighting the importance of education and job training to career success that it seems unlikely that they are being unrealistic about their own career objectives as well.

If managers are going to appropriately train Millennials to take the reins of their organizations, they will have to come to terms that young people’s career desires may be different than their own. Similarly, Millennials will have to adjust their own expectations around their salary and advancement potential. The Devry researchers suggest that companies implement training to help generations understand one another better, as well as “soft-skill training” to teach Millennials to adapt to the corporate workplace better.

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