You don’t need to tread in the Toms of a millennial for a week to know they are like any generation and not the homogenous set they’re often reported to be. As a father of three children who could not be more different from one another, I know too well there is no one answer, no one-size-fits-all approach and that the onus is on us, parent or employer, to understand what makes them tick.
This summer, I spent the week with a millennial – my daughter – after we were lucky enough to get to the Rio Olympics. It was a rare opportunity to unplug and enjoy time with just the two of us chatting, and it reminded me how much young people already know, that learning isn’t one way and that we should all be as curious to ask as many questions as we answer.
For me, people are my priority – at ManpowerGroup we find work for 3.4 million every year, half of whom are millennials, and I’m often asked about the advice I give my own children. While I dare not reveal father-daughter secrets, there are a few shareables that helped us see a potentially uncertain future in a positive light.
Stick or twist? Just have a go and keep your options wide open
College is important educationally and culturally, but what young people learn at university alone doesn’t equip them for today’s job market and too many leave grad-ready, not job ready.
It’s important to get practical work experience early. Students who have four or more contacts with employers while in school are more likely to be employed at age 19-24 and five times less likely to be jobless. Opportunities to engage with employers through Junior Achievement, work experience, weekend and temporary jobs nurture curiosity and the desire to explore new things. In doing so, they help you learn where your passion lies at a young age: what work you’d like to do and, importantly, what you’d like to avoid.
Learnability is the path to career security
In an environment where new skills emerge as fast as others become extinct, employability is less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn. By focusing on learnability – the desire and ability to adapt your skills to remain employable – millennials are redefining career security.
Ninety-three percent want ongoing skills development and four out of five say the opportunity to learn a new skill is a top factor when considering a new job. Employers would do well to listen up and consider how they create a learning culture that motivates and retains millennials, because what works for them works for the rest of the workforce, too.
Embrace disruption and take advantage of technology
It’s no secret that the job-for-life model no longer exists – but amazing that 65% of children starting their first year of school this year will eventually do jobs that don’t yet exist. So without a doubt today’s and tomorrow's workforce will need to keep reskilling to stay relevant through longer working lives.
Some jobs will be significantly impacted by automation and robotics, and new jobs will be created in ways that are hard to predict, but what we know for sure is that the ability to adapt and learn will be a skill that will provide employment security for many as the environment changes.
What else do we know? We know that plenty of future employment opportunities will come from STEM-related jobs. Also, women are especially likely to be disproportionately affected by increases in automation, as their employment is concentrated in low-growth or declining industries and they are already underrepresented in fields such as computer science and tech.
We need to do more to remove the barriers for girls and women to study and work in high-growth sectors if we’re to continue to accelerate gender parity in the workplace. One of my daughters, who is studying chemistry at university, is quite right when she tells me we need to act earlier and proactively encourage girls to pursue STEM subjects, if we want to train and tap the best talent.
Find out what you care about and try to align it with your work
It might sound clichéd and it’s not always possible, but it’s important to be interested – even passionate – about what you do. In this respect, we can learn a lot from the millennial generation. They care – about communities, about giving back – and they look for that in their employers too.
Eight in 10 millennials in Mexico, India and Brazil say working for employers who are socially responsible and aligned to their values is important. A majority of millennials everywhere say purpose is a priority. Almost half of Generation Z (the generational cohort directly following millennials) go as far as saying that in choosing a job, working for a company that helps make the world a better place would be as important as the salary.
Don’t get me wrong: I know money matters too, but this is a nudge to employers that purpose is important, and we should be explicit about our responsibility to the communities in which we operate. This is a generation that wants to know that what they do matters. If that recognition cannot be expressed through a job for life, they will choose employers that reflect their personal beliefs and interests for the time that they are part of that organization.
People with balanced lives bring their best selves to work
Some of the most inspiring people we meet in our jobs are often those with balanced and interesting lives outside of work. Diversity of personal experience brings better perspective and judgement in professional circumstances. Young people should embrace this, seek out diverse opportunities, meet those who do different jobs from their parents and explore different cultures – whether that’s outside of their school, neighbourhood or country.
Of course, the same is true of organizations: companies with a more diverse workforce overall consistently report larger customer bases and better commercial results than those with less diversity among their staff.
So I’ll echo what my daughter felt most strongly about: young people have plenty of cause for optimism about the future. Undoubtedly their experience will be different from their parents, as they have grown up as the first truly global generation, more aware of and more affected by events that occur far away from their location.
If history is any indicator, more jobs and more opportunities will be created as the labour market changes. Millennials and Generation Z are well placed to face the challenge. We know first-hand they’re hard-working, ambitious, well-informed and committed to developing the skills they need to stay employable for life, traits we would all do well to follow, whether we were walking in their shoes or our own.