Millennials: Myth or Fact

I had the great pleasure of meeting with University of Maine engineering students at the University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation Paper Days Event. These were students who were at different levels in their school career: some will be graduating in May and having completed 3 semesters of internships and accepted their first “real world” job, some were in their third year of college having completed one semester of internships, and some in their second year of college about to begin their first internship this summer.

These students represent the millennial generation, being born between the years of the early 1980s to the late 1990s. They participated on a panel run by a Manufacturing Senior Level Production Manager. The panel was about the expectations of the millennial generation and how misunderstood they are in today’s industrial world. The myths include things like the expectation of working a 40-hour work week (and no more), to be center of attention, of the participation trophies generation, and to promote quickly. These myths were all addressed and very quickly dispelled. All of these students expect to work a long work week, when needed. Things rarely go smoothly in a manufacturing setting, and they are willing to do what’s needed to get the job done. They don’t want to be center of attention; they want to learn the job that they have been hired to do, and they don’t want all eyes on them while they are learning. Being part of the “participation trophies” generation does them no good. If they are doing a good job, they just want a pat on the back every now and again, and not in front of people because they don’t want to be center of attention. They don’t want to promote quickly because they want to learn the job and learn it well. They want a deep understanding of the job before they promote. The millennial generation are really getting a bad name before they have even begun their careers. They want a chance to dispel these myths.

Some truths about them: they identify more closely with Generation X. The Gen Xers out there want to work a more efficient work week: get the job done in 40 hours so that you’re not at work all the time. A point made by them is that, at their level, they will be doing a lot of data analysis. Why do they they need to be on-site for that? They want to have the flexibility to work remotely when appropriate. They want FAST feedback: Frequent, Accurate, Specific, and Timely. If they’re doing a good job, let them know that, and if they aren’t let them know what needs to improve. Again, recognize them for their hard work, not publicly. They would like senior mentors to teach them all their knowledge so that they do have a deep understanding of their jobs and of their industries. They also need to have a younger mentor, someone they can go to to ask things like how to use a land-line phone. This isn't something they should have to bother a more senior person, but this is a real issue for them. We think of the millennial generation connected to their cell phones and that’s the only way they know how to communicate, and that isn’t really the case. They know that texting isn’t effective and they would rather talk to someone than text, meaning they don’t need to have a work cell phone to work for your company.

When interviewing for your company, introduce them to all these levels of people within the company: let them meet the more senior people and the people closer to them in age. They want to know that they are going to fit into your company and how they will fit. Another great way to mentor these students is to ask about their desired work space: they are social creatures, and most work well sharing an office space with their mentor. They want to be a part of your team and they want to work as part of a team when needed.

They also want to know about benefits. Sometimes we take that for granted because they are young, but they are looking for companies that will grow with them. They want to know about spouse benefits (they might not be married, but they are probably going to be getting married within 5-10 years of starting their careers), maternity and paternity leaves, family values of the company, and 401Ks. Another benefit they would like is to be rewarded with increased vacation sooner instead of increased pay. They would take more vacation days for the same pay rather than it taking 5 years to earn that extra week of paid vacation.

A happy employee is an effective employee, and it’s good to take the time to understand the changing needs of the workforce as we see the Baby-Boomers retiring and the Gen Xers taking their places as our industry experts. The Millennials need to be given a chance to plant their roots within your company. They don’t want to change jobs in 2 years, they want to be loyal employees, and these are some of the things we can do for them to make their transitions easier.

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