Millennials: why are they different?
Part three: Breaking the myths
By no means do all young people meet the stereotypes expected of millennials — as has been suggested in part one and part two of this article. Research by KPMG (itself a company with nearly 60% of its workforce composed of millennials) in association with Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College Center for Work & Family, garnered evidence that bucks some of these trends. Interviewing 1,100 millennials, Harrington found that ‘60% said they plan to stay in their jobs to advance, versus 25% who want to get ahead by moving from employer to employer.’ Harrington agrees that there is no ‘job for life’ — ‘fewer organizations offer lifetime job arrangements… and the world has moved away from the idea of long-term job security. But… at a rate of two to one, millennials prefer to stay, and that was surprising.’
Harrington’s figures also agree that millennials feel strongly about work-life balance. ‘The majority felt that their lives outside of work were much more important to their sense of identity than their careers. Few — approximately 20% — were willing to pursue these goals at the expense of their personal lives.’
The KPMG/Harrington research did not find, as expected, that socially conscious attitudes figure highly in millennials’ set of values. ‘ “How much I am helping others” and “contribution to society” were among the lowest ranked items in importance of career success measures for the millennials surveyed,’ writes Stephanie Vozza, quoting the survey in Fast Company.
And although the millennials were as comfortable with technology as expected, this doesn’t make them people-averse. ‘When we asked how they found their most recent position, instead of saying “social media” like we expected, the number one answer was that they were referred by a friend, relative, or another connection,’ Harrington is quoted as saying. ‘They are using the tried-and-true method of networking.’
There are lessons here for both millennials themselves and for the companies recruiting them. One of the consequences of growing older is that you know your own mind more — or, to put it less kindly, you become more set in your ways. One of the joys of youth is that you are still open to new ideas, your opinions are still forming and your view of the world is not set in stone. A fallout from this, when interviewing millennials about what they expect from university and work, is that their opinions are still in a state of flux. That makes it harder for people writing about millennials to come to hard and fast conclusions about them.
Looking to the future
What, then, do learning institutions need to do differently? The first lesson is to understand the millennial mindset, and this primarily involves understanding the principle of co-opting. Millennials are not materialistic, and they share rather than accumulate. UK newspaper The Guardian recently reported that average material consumption fell from 15 tonnes in 2001 to just over 10 tonnes in 2013; a huge reduction. In the same article, climate change author Chris Goodall, added that people now spend more on services than physical goods.’ Millennials are less interested in possessing; rather than store thousands of emails, they use Snapchat and delete instantly. Instead of hoarding photos, books, CDs and DVDs like their predecessors, everything is accessed online and there is little sense of possession in the traditional sense of the word.
This change has caused a psyche shift as well. They co-create businesses together. They buy houses together. This co-operative shift makes the education dynamic suddenly very different. Classes where students team up are more likely to generate innovative thinking than individual study. Problem-solving can be done more quickly in groups rather than separately. So the insight is, enable students to work together more. Enable them to spark ideas off each other, to come to new conclusions and reach new insights. Let them learn together and the results can be surprisingly effective.
Embracing the technology, rather than resisting it, is also essential. Philippe Caignon, a 3M National Teaching Fellow, argues that digital learning can innovate and enrich teaching, and is an addition rather than a replacement for classical teaching methods. ‘Digital learning is the means through which professors can enhance their teaching strategies and adapt their pedagogy to the ever-changing needs of their students,’ he says. Quoted alongside Caignon in How to teach millennials? Embrace technology by Sara DuBreuil is Dr. Nancy Acemian, a professor in the Department of Computer Software and Engineering Department at Concordia University. ‘It is a win-win situation,’ she says. ‘Profs have more fun in class, students have more fun and are more engaged with the course content, which is the first step in learning.’
What we can be sure of is that if you respond to millennials in the language they understand — enable them to work with the technology they are familiar with, and treat them responsibly, they will enhance the organisation and hopefully won’t jump ship at the first opportunity. Millennials will make up 75% of the working population by 2025. It’s their world now, and it’s the older generation who need to adapt to them; not the other way round.