Emphasis Added

Notes on the intersection of demographics and technology
Friday, March 07, 2008 1:53 PM

Will Millennials be as Picky in a Down Job Market?

One of the main issues on the minds of employers is the well-documented willingness of young employees to up and leave if things aren't to their liking. According to a study by the Pew Research Center published in January, 2007, 72 percent of Millennials surveyed thought they had a good chance at landing a high-paying job, and relatively large numbers of young people keep expenses low by living with parents into their 20s. This, combined with messages about impending skills shortages and Baby Boom retirements, gives young workers a fairly high degree of confidence in being selective about their work situations and the opportunity to impose unusual expectations on their employers.

As Generation Blend went to press this fall, their was already a chill in the economic climate. Today's employment report confirms that US job growth is bleak enough to be characterized as a recession by many economists.Will this temper the expectations of Millennials or diminish their leverage in any meaningful way? Here are a few reasons why it won't:

  • Recessions come and go; demographics are long term. Everyone single member of the job market of 2020 has already been born. There are no more to come. So projections about the long-term labor market are fixed from the supply side (give or take changes in workforce participation rates), whereas demand is uncertain. Organizations still have to think long-term about retention, loyalty, the costs of turnover, and development of management talent, which will become especially scarce given the relatively small number of GenXers moving up to replace Boomers in higher-level responsibilities. Bottom line: there will still be competition for talented Millennials, even in a slow labor market.
  • The demand is for skills, not people. Businesses that derive their competitive advantage from knowledge creation can tighten their belts only so far, because their ability to execute and innovate depends on having the right people in the right roles. Savvy Millennials offer the job market skills, not just labor.
  • Millennials have already factored in expectations of turmoil. Strategically-educated Millennials have prepared for this kind of job market from birth; indeed, many of the eldest were born in the midst of the last severe recession in the US in the early 1980s. Even if finding a well-paying job becomes relatively more difficult, they may still prioritize the better job experience, recognizing that this is more critical to their long-term career growth.
  • Young labor is cheap labor. Recent studies have shown organizations are paying more and more to older and older workers, perhaps as a last-ditch knowledge retention effort to stave off a crippling wave of retirements. If I'm a bottom-line-focussed company looking to trim short term expenses, the large salaries and benefits of senior workers present a more tempting target for cuts than relatively low-paid junior-level workers eager to be fast-tracked into higher levels of responsibility.  

Debt-ridden and inexperienced Millennials may face a recession with some anxiety and feel pressure to compromise their expectations in the short-term. However, they have many more assets to withstand a down labor market relative to most others in the economy. It may not be long before economic conditions actually sharpen demand for the skills, attitudes and productivity that young workers bring to the workplace, even at the expense of more experienced workers. The minute that scenario materializes, Millennials will integrate it into their mindset. Will that make them less picky? I doubt it.

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Generation Blend is must-reading for managers who mean to succeed over the next decade.”

 – Lawrence Wilkinson, Chairman, Heminge and Condell & co-founder, Global Business Network

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Rob Salkowitz is a writer and consultant specializing in social technology and next-generation workforce. He is the author of Generation Blend and co-author of Listening to the Future, and a principal in the Seattle-based communications firm MediaPlant.

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