Meet Brad Campbell – he’s a millennial. The 18 year old lives with his parents and attends Macquarie University where he’s studying for an electronic engineering degree.
Campbell enjoys his studies, considers himself creative, and wants a challenging, engaging job. He doesn’t have a particular employer in mind, but the notion of a job with fixed hours doesn’t hold great appeal.
“Arriving and leaving at a specific time doesn’t make much sense, I’m more interested in the job itself,” he says. “I’d also want the company to have a good image, one that believes in contributing to the greater good, if that really is a thing,” Campbell says.
Forward-thinking business leaders are starting to pay attention to people like Campbell. All the signs point to an ageing population and a decline in the actual labour force.
The implications are clear. Finding and retaining talent among a shrinking pool of labour will be one of Australia’s biggest workforce challenges. In addition, companies will need a fresh approach to human resources, one that doesn’t expect millennials to simply fit in to the established order.
Consider Eve Labeau’s story as an example. At 22, she’s an ambitious employee in the wealth management division of a big four bank. She’s already changed jobs to find an employer that offered the professional development she wanted.
She’s been consistently employed since 16, already owns an investment property and is studying accounting part time.
Notably, Labeau has already decided her career options are limited in a large company, and plans to start her own business as a financial adviser focused on women once she’s accumulated enough experience.
“I just don’t feel comfortable in this culture,” Labeau explains.
“There’s not really a good career for me in a big organisation, and if I start my own business it will be easier to manage when I have a family.”
Discovering the Millennials
Born between 1980 and 2000, millennials are a largely misunderstood demographic in the Australian economy.
They’re confident and optimistic, have a strong commitment to family, and invariably rate human interaction and happiness above material wealth or prestige.
Many still live with parents, but are far from lazy. They’re committed, hard workers who take pride in their work – so long as they feel connected to their role and employer.
“Millennials aren’t looking for jobs, they’re looking for opportunities,” explains Mark McCrindle, Australia’s foremost researcher into intergenerational differences. “They have high expectations on the organisations they work for based on workplace culture, professional development, managerial style and flexibility.”
McCrindle also points out millennials represent an economic shift not seen since the Baby Boomers drove demand for products and services in the 1960s. Their attitude to work is shaping average employment times and in turn will impact the economy.
“Millennials are spending an average of about three years, four months in a job, and will work for up to 17 different employers in their lives,” says McCrindle. “This means employers need to figure out not only how to find them in the first place, but also how to stay engaged with them through their careers.”
“Re-employment strategies become as important as retention strategies, as talented millennials circle through different roles.”
Millennials aren’t looking for jobs, they’re looking for opportunities. They have high expectations on the organisations they work for based on workplace culture, professional development, managerial style and flexibility.
Realising the benefits of a new generation
Challenges aside, the benefits of engaging meaningfully with the rising generation of millennials are many and varied.
In the first instance, they’re highly educated with the highest rate of post-school qualifications of any prior generation.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports 70 percent of 24 to 34 year olds already have a post-school qualification. By comparison, just over 50 percent of Baby Boomers had a similar level of qualifications at the same age.
Expect these highly educated people to be productive team players who feel connected to a global community and open to new ideas.
A global study by Viacom International Media titled The Next Normal highlights the optimism. Millennials hold a deep belief that the world could change for the better under their watch. Some 84 per cent of millennials believe their age group has the potential to change the world for the better.
It’s a level of confidence and social engagement not seen in previous generations, and it promises to reshape the workforce.
“Millennials have the potential to be incredibly productive, because for them work is about more than a ‘fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’,” says McCrindle.
If they feel invested in and valued, they will repay the investment with commitment and productivity, McCrindle says. This could mean frequently checking work emails out of hours and working on the weekends, especially if their employer is willing to overlook a few late arrivals during the week.
Think big, act small
How well do you understand millennials? Social researcher Mark McCrindle offers this advice on the best ways to work with the younger generation of employees:
- Millennials are highly educated, flexible, and determined to change the world
- They maintain a commitment to flexibility, sustainable work practices and career progression
- They focus on non-financial incentives like frequent flyer programs, training, variable work hours, exercise programs and overt recognition
- They will help you to build a workplace culture of innovation.