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The Last Word: Mindful of Millennials

I thought it would be enlightening to hear from people who share some of the same attributes as younger millennials but managed to get a jump on their careers before the recession.

October 4, 2011
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The winners of our inaugural Game Changers competition represent rising stars under age 40, so not surprisingly most are Gen Xers.

But it's notable that four of the 15 are millennials born since 1980. During their first decade in the workplace, they certainly have racked up impressive accomplishments. Yet their achievements made me wonder whether equally promising younger millennials who reached their late teens and early 20s during this prolonged economic malaise will make their mark by age 30.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds remains dismal, having risen in August to 25.4 percent. For people 20 to 24, the jobless figure increased to 14.8 percent.

Youth employment is a subject close to my heart, partly because I have an 18-year-old son starting college this fall and contemplating his future career. My interest and concern also stem from my personal connections with millennials.

While researching my book The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, I met some talented college students and young professionals who were just embarking on their careers when the economy imploded.

Some of them have continued their studies, seeking master's or law degrees while hoping to wait out the job drought. But I worry that they and others could lose their way in this stubbornly stagnant job market.

I decided to ask our millennial Game Changers for their thoughts about youth unemployment and advice for struggling millennials. I thought it would be enlightening to hear from people who share some of the same attributes as younger millennials but managed to get a jump on their careers before the recession.

Many millennials excelled in high school and college and were coddled by their helicopter parents. For these young people, unemployment—or underemployment—has been a brutal jolt. Still, Julie Heitzler, a 29-year-old Game Changer, believes millennials need to be mature during this challenging time.

"Honestly, I feel like that's just life," she told me in an email. "We are conditioned to think, go to school + get good grades + graduate = get a job. In reality, it's not so simple. … I don't think graduates are doing enough to stand out and get themselves noticed among the sea of applicants."

Heitzler, human resources manager at the Orlando Airport Marriott Hotel, observed that the millennials' job woes stem not just from the troubled economy but also from technology. "We've grown up in an era where so much has changed; we are the in-betweeners," she said. "Many jobs have dissolved as technology gets bigger, better and faster. … We are entering the start of our careers as all this is going on, so I don't think our generation had enough time to see the changes and gaps in abilities to adjust and adapt our skills quick enough."

She and the other Game Changers urge millennials to focus on networking and consider alternative experiences, such as volunteer work, until a job comes along. "Perseverance, organization and networking!" said Laura Picking, a 29-year-old Game Changer and HR manager at Delta Dental of Kansas. "By attending a luncheon, posting a thread on a networking site or joining a committee, a job seeker is in a greater position than those who rely solely on job boards." As someone who had to accept a job outside her chosen field of HR when she started her career, she understands the disappointment of younger millennials. "The sheer number of applicants for one opening can be alarming," Picking said. "It can certainly take its toll on a person when they are looked over time and again."

Game Changer Nicholas Christenson, the 30-year-old manager of talent management at Doosan Infracore Construction Equipment in South Korea, voiced some reservations about the millennials' ability to catch up in compensation and career growth. "The unknown," he said, "is how employers will value these young people when they are able to hire them, as they likely will have had less deep experience than previous generations."

Even if corporate America lets millennials down, they just might prove to be the most entrepreneurial generation. As entrepreneurial Game Changer Tim Besse, the 31-year-old co-founder of the employment information website Glassdoor, put it: "Perhaps this generation will be marked by its creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Only time will truly tell if this is a generation that felt lost or who felt emboldened to adapt in an effort to thrive."

Workforce Management, October 2011, p. 50 -- Subscribe Now!

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