[Opinion] Generation Y In The Workforce and Education

Post by Open Colleges on September 28th, 2012

I was born in the cusp between Generation X & Y.  I grew up in the dot.com boom.  I listened to Green Day, grew up as a latchkey kid, and believed that our generation would change the world.

And it did.

The technology and webculture of the 1990’s revolutionized communication and social institutions.  The economy boomed.  Our generation established its place in the workplace and education.

Who is Generation Y?

Generation Y are those born between 1979 and 1990.  Generation Y is highly educated and value intellect, with over half having attended college.  In many ways, Generation X paved the way for an open reception of Generation Y, with their shared values of self-sufficiency and freedom.

But their upbringing was markedly different:  Generation X, the latchkey kids had to figure things out on their own, while Generation Y had the support of their parents, sometimes overindulgence too.

According to a report, “A 4-Generation Workforce” by the University of Florida, despite sharing some similarities to Generation X, Generation Y is unique in many ways.

  • Generation highly values patriotism, family, and community involvement.
  • They are dubbed as having “helicopter parents”, having high levels of parental involvement as kids.
  • Having been raised in the economic boom of the 1990’s, their parents instilled in them that they could achieve anything, and sometimes they are criticized for being entitled.
  • Due to their upbringing, Generation Y is used to mentorship and readily accepts coaching from elders.

High levels of unemployment has influenced Generation Y to be ingenious in finding work while maintaining a high interest in education.  There is a movement to different types of education, such as online, open source, or technical education that fits specifically with their personal goals.  This is attractive to employers, in that they are a highly educated and self- motivated cohort.

Mohawk Guy and A new generation of workers

I remember the first time I surfed the internet on dial-up, it was to look at NASA’s website. Fast forward to 2012. If you’ve turned on CNN lately, you have probably heard of NASA’s Mohawkguy.

Bobak Ferdowsi’s hairdo has become the meme for the future generation of workers.

Ferdowsi changes his hairdo for each mission and represents the kind of patriotism and ingenuity at the very heart of NASA’s discoveries. And while televising the mission control room, his red, white, and blue Mohawk got everyone’s attention. In fact, his hairstyle drew more publicity to the Mars Rover, than the mission itself.

NASA has said that the Mohawk guy, a rover flight director, represents the next generation of engineers that NASA hopes to attract, in an age when space funding is dwindling. Gone are the days of ties and suits, and enter the days of brightly colored mohawks and tattoos.

The Millennium generation is challenging notions of conformity in the workplace.

A Changing Work Landscape

Upon graduation, my older peers where landing jobs easily.  But as the economy began to collapse, Generation Y was in for a rude awakening. I saw a wave of competition, like never before.  Most of my peers holding advanced college degrees were struggling to find work.

Now a Masters, technical degree, or industry experience was the only way to gain competitive advantage. Some people began working their way by learning skills for themselves.

Many web pioneers launched businesses as entrepreneurs of a new kind, and learned industry skils on their own or from peer communities.  In this age, traditional education was no longer needed to be a millionaire. Generation X and Y  relied on their ingeniuty, social media connectivity, and technological acumen.

High levels of unemployment influenced Generation Y to be ingenious in finding work while focusing on their education and personal achievement.

What do employers value about Generation Y?

  • Y is the most technically literate generation and desire faster professional advancement.  There is more movement between jobs for career advancement and change, without being loyal to one company in particular.
  • Generation Y is creative.  They seek intellectual challenges and hope to find new solutions to old problems.  Their approach is getting involved in grassroots movements, community organizations, and social issues that interest them.
  • Generation Y has a strong sense of social responsibility and high levels of volunteerism.  In regards to civics, Generation Y is the most involved of all generations.  They expect employers to be socially conscious.

Generation Y in the workplace

My husband is a manager at a fortune 500 company, and he leads a diverse, multi-generational team. When I asked him how he manages Generation Y differently he said,

“Generation Y constantly needs to know “why” they are doing something. I often explain the reasons behind procedures to help them understand the bigger picture. They might be called ‘Generation Why’”.

“Why” no longer accepts unnecessary procedures or formality without knowing the purpose.

Their willingness to ask questions and know the reasons behind actions has led many employers to allow them to express their originality. Generation “Why” no longer accepts unnecessary procedures or formality without knowing the purpose. They find a faster way to do it using technology.

They want answers fast via text or email. They are extremely resourceful.

A Cultural Shift: Generation X pushed boundaries, Generation Y pulled in new ideas

In many ways our culture is shifting; it is indicative of the acceptance of a new cohort of workers who value creativity and self-expression. Generation X came in blazing, challenging notions of formality and unnecessary bureaucracy of the baby boomers. They embraced counterculture with a Come as you are mentality, revolutionized communication, and expressed their voices in progressive social movements.

Generation X pushed boundaries.  They rejected the need for formality and conventionalism in the workforce and higher education.

Universities responded by adding a new array of course offerings to appeal to the needs of the new generation. Their interests are diverse, indicative of the need to blend personal interest with education and work.  I remember auditing a course at UPenn as a pre-freshman visiting the campus on Hip hop culture’s influence on society.

Course offerings grew to meet the demand of the new generation.

The millennium generation pulled these new ideas into the workforce and education. They drew in notions of social responsibility and need for creativity and autonomy. Their knowledge of technology and need for community has led employers to meet the changes- with a visible result in the diversity and social responsibility in the workplace.

They remembered Generation X and drew in some of their cynicism of corporations, while remaining optimistic about the future.

Bridging the Generation Gap

Who will bridge the differences between super independent minded X and traditional baby boomers?

Generation Y may be crucial to bridging the gap between traditional baby boomers and independent Xers. Boomers will probably fall into consulting and sharing their wide knowledge of experience from dedicated years of work in a changing cultural landscape. Generation Y would serve as an excellent mediator to take mentoring from boomers and convince Generation X to integrate their experience.

According to Time magazine, it won’t be long before Generation X is in charge, with Generation Y supporting them. In a Time article, Anne Fisher interviews Bruce Tulgan, author of a book about Generation Y,  “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y” and he says that in the future of the workplace,

“. . .  success will be defined not by rank or seniority but by getting what matters to you personally,” whether that’s the chance to lead a new-product launch or being able to take winters off for snowboarding.”

And that sounds pretty promising to me.

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