In my travels as editor of this magazine, I’ve listened in on numerous tradespeople at meetings and events lamenting how entitled the younger generation of workers are, and how they generally lack ambition and work ethic.
While I agree the millennial generation is different in many ways, I vehemently disagree with the idea they are unambitious. In fact, I argue they have faced some significant hurdles as young adults and are defying the odds — and employers who understand millennials’ strengths and weaknesses have an opportunity to tap a significant source of raw talent.
BEATING THE ODDS
In general, millennials have been raised quite differently than their parents were.
It’s no secret the pressure to go to college is enormous now, and parents of millennials have been doing what they believe they need to do to make sure their kids can get into the best college in order to have a chance at a successful career. As a result, students are graduating high school prepared to kick butt and take names in college, yet they are woefully unprepared for the real world after college.
And you know what? It’s not their fault — it’s how they were raised.
In her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” former Stanford University Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses at length how one’s desire for his or her children to be successful has increasingly — and detrimentally — manifested as overparenting. Parents equate college with success, so they take up the slack, knock down obstacles, and shield their kids from distractions so they can concentrate on earning the marks that will get them into increasingly more competitive (and expensive) schools.
Interestingly, Lythcott-Haims puts the onus on the baby boomer generation for kick-starting this overparenting trend: “Members of the baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, were the first to earn the label ‘helicopter parent.’ Their children are the older wave of the ‘millennial’ generation I’m concerned about.”
THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE
To further complicate matters, millennials are stepping, largely unprepared, into an economy stacked high against them.
A May 2018 article in Business Insider details some of the many ways in which millennials are starting out their adult lives at a distinct disadvantage compared with their Gen X and baby boomer predecessors. Let’s look at the cost of college alone: “From the late 1980s to the 2017-18 school year, the cost of an undergraduate degree rose by 213% at public schools, adjusting for inflation. Back then, average annual tuition for public college was just $1,490, or $3,190 in today’s dollars, compared with today’s price tag of $9,970.” Additionally, median income for Americans age 25-34 decreased by 21% between 1989 and 2013, and “millennials also have a lower net worth ($10,400 in 2013) than Gen X had ($18,200 in 1995).”
Despite starting off adulthood at a distinct disadvantage, millennials still seek out and value many of the same things in employers that their predecessors do. One study finds “67% of millennials say being loyal to their employer is important to them, which is on par with previous generations.” They also want retirement and investment options, work/life balance and to be a part of a company that demonstrates social responsibility.
My point is, millennials are not any less ambitious than previous generations, and they actually come with many advantages. They are quite technologically savvy and have a very strong desire to “work hard, play hard.”
Pigeonholing an entire generation as “entitled” and “unambitious” is simply ignorant, especially when one considers the hurdles they’ve had to clear that previous generations never even had to worry about. Employers who acknowledge this — who truly understand how to play to this generation’s strengths and values — will be able to harness the power of a generation hungry for a piece of the pie and the chance to make a difference.