The Millennial Generation: Shaping Changes in Employment

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If the Millennial Generation could be defined in one word, it would be change. This generation doesn’t know what it is not to have a high-speed internet connection. Many of them have never purchased anything in a music store. A small group know what CDs are but have probably never used them. There’s a good chance that many of them will never purchase a physical newspaper again. And most have never put film in a camera before.

The list goes on.

It’s tempting to think on some level that these changes are superficial; people are still consuming music – only now it’s in MP3 format rather than on CD and the rise of Instagram tells us that people are still taking photos but the medium has changed. But that would be to miss the point; ten years ago, companies tested employees’ computer skills by requiring them to perform mundane tasks on Microsoft Windows. Now companies routinely hire 18-year olds who could teach the CEO about programming.

This oncoming generation represents a massive shift for employers everywhere. The age of the “company man” who sits behind one desk for an entire career is being left behind in favour of something far more dynamic (which is still being defined) that reflects how companies are now interacting with all of their stakeholders. It encompasses new technology and acknowledges the reality that the world is a far more competitive place than it was a generation ago. The shift begins with the employment contract.

The Employment Contract: Employees

The traditional employment contract has changed in both explicit and implicit terms. The requirements list used to read something along the lines of, “honest hard worker, relevant qualification preferred and clean driving license.” Now, an undergraduate degree is a minimum expectation in most roles as well as intermediate knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite. SAP is also almost ubiquitous on requirement lists as are programming languages.

And regarding what’s expected of you outside of work? Where to begin? You’re competing against people who have backpacked around Southeast Asia and Latin America, have excelled in several college societies, have done valuable voluntary work and learn Chinese in their spare time. Annoyingly, they’re also more likely to look like they’ve just come straight from the gym. To top it all off, they’re probably an extremely nice person.

The Employment Contract: Employers

Given how much will be expected of the employee in this workplace shift, it is only right that they should expect something in return from their employers. Because of technology such as LinkedIn and the flattening of the workplace management structure, millennials will be more likely to know their true worth to an organization. And they’ll demand it. The explicit side of a contract for a company will include improvements in salary and all manner of extra benefits like gym membership, medical coverage and childcare.

Aware that they are judged on the companies they work for, Millennials will demand more from their employers not just in the workplace but outside as well. Millennials will (hopefully) continue to be more conscientious than their predecessors about social and environmental issues. They will expect changes from companies that seemed irrelevant or out of the scope of interest of employees just a generation ago. In their immediate environment, they’ll expect a more collegial atmosphere than their predecessors.

The Working Environment

Teamwork used to be a rather fuzzy term, which broadly meant being helpful around the office and doing what you were told without making a fuss. For the millennial generation, teamwork will truly mean collaboration. It will involve taking leadership on some roles and a junior position in others. It will require people to work as part of various projects in different teams at once and learn how to prioritize tasks for each.

The increasing sophistication of telecommunications means that the millennial generation will probably enjoy home office options more than previous generations. However, it will also mean they’ll spend more time on-site with clients. Likewise, it will mean that an increasing amount of the administrative or back-office tasks that used to be carried out in company are instead performed by outsourced departments.

This outsourcing will create – and is already creating – new opportunities for work at home parents, people who want to travel or go on sabbatical. Freelancing sites like ODesk.com and Elance.com are creating a burgeoning marketplace where freelancers meet companies looking to outsource tasks ranging from creating business plans and financial models to legal and HR services.

The Future looks Different

There’s a danger that we think of the oncoming generation as a group of snotty young Americans raised with several technology platforms. Reading on the subject online only serves to confirm this impression. But this is part of the myth we’re creating about the Millennials. More than anything, this generation will differ from their predecessors in the fact that they’re not just westerners – they’re everyone.

Our grandfathers competed with people on the same street for jobs. This oncoming generation will be collaborating with and competing against other millennials from every corner of the world. They’ll work in multi-ethnic teams and provide more rounded solutions than would have been possible a generation ago. That’s a very exciting prospect for all of us.

On a final note, people are fast to define generations. We have Generation X, Generation Y, Baby-boomers, etc. At times in various parts of the media, the Millennial Generation has been referred to as “the lost generation” because so many of them in the west remain in long-term unemployment. This is perhaps the biggest challenge of Millennial Generation employment – to put them in jobs where they can be productive and bring about some of the evolution discussed in this article.

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