Millennials @ Work

By Henry G. Jackson May 1, 2014

May 2014 Cover​This month, millions of robed young people will walk across stages, reach for diplomas and flip their tassels from right to left. Your organization may be their next stop. Are you ready?

The next generation of workers—known as Millennials or Generation Y—is bringing high expectations with them. Studies show they want more, faster than any previous generation: more meaningful opportunities, more innovative and exciting projects, and more mission-critical work that advances their careers. And who can blame them? They are products of a time when technology and “search” have put information at everyone’s fingertips. The differentiator for the newest entrants to the workforce will not be what you know, but what you do with what you know. The Society for Human Resource Management calls this the “competency factor,” which you will hear more about in coming months.

However, along with high expectations, research shows that Millennials have diminishing loyalty toward institutions. Young people are eschewing everything from organized politics, religion and marriage to the long-tenured career. According to a recent Georgetown University report, Millennials switch jobs 6.3 times between the ages of 18 and 25, and only one out of every 10 considers their current job a career. Here, too, young people are products of their environment. They came of age in the post-Sept. 11 era and saw confidence in traditional institutions erode. After following the wisdom of their elders to pursue higher education at any cost, they emerged burdened by student debt and unemployment.

Still, the Millennial workforce remains optimistic. They are challenging our organizations to embrace the energy and fresh thinking they bring to old problems. They want to learn on the job. They don’t want to just share knowledge; they want to apply it and be rewarded for it quickly or they move on. As Pew Research Center reported, Millennials are “digital natives”—the only generation that hasn’t had to adopt the technologies that have dramatically transformed the way we live and work. For them, these advances have been the norm.

This cohort will make up half the U.S. workforce by 2020. They will shape the workplace of tomorrow by their numbers alone. HR professionals and our organizations would do well to adopt a more Millennial mindset today.

The pages of this month’s HR Magazine are a good place to start. Our cover story on growing the STEM workforce examines how organizations can cultivate new technical talent through the use of certificate programs, on-the-job training and other educational opportunities. The feature on gamification will help you assess whether this high-tech approach to training is right for your company. Additionally, in our Q&A, Rachel Larson, assistant director/career coach at the University of Nebraska, advises HR on how to help the Class of 2014 transition to the workplace.

Those organizations best able to attract, engage, develop and challenge Millennials will have a competitive edge. Ready or not, here they come.


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