Generations at work

My dad tells me that when he was in community college his professor the students was a rare and special because they were attending college: less than 5% of people had the advantage of a college education.

Except it wasn’t true anymore, and hadn’t been true since the 1940s. After World War II, the U.S. created the GI bill to pay for returning soldiers to go to college. My dad’s out-of-step professor had already been teaching these veterans for decades and hadn’t quite noticed that the world around him had changed.

When I graduated from high school, I assumed I’d be going to college. I’d held several entry-level jobs, and I knew I needed a leg up to do something better. I fixed my class schedule so I could work as many shifts at my job as I could. It took a long time, but I never had to take a loan for my education.

Which makes me part of a bygone era. Millennials didn’t have the option of debt-free education. Education costs skyrocketed, and jobs for inexperienced young people had almost disappeared. Then again, loans were easier and easier get. The result is the best educated generation in America.

This Whitehouse report shows 47% of Millennials have a college degree. Jobs were scarce and loans were easy, so people borrowed more money and had fewer jobs. My Gen X friends stacked roommates up in tiny cheap apartments, or couch surfed around in their 20s. The next set of 20 year olds lived at home with their parents in greater numbers and for longer. The parents of Millennials generally supported the focus on education to the exclusion of job experience.

That doesn’t last forever, though. The time would come, and is now at hand, when students would become professionals.

And the classroom is different from a job.

Our educational system is based on science method. Even the non-scientific fields use this basic foundation.

Thomas Kuhn, in one of my favorite life altering books, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, says this:

“science…is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like”

Put another way science is based on accepted forms of knowledge and the mutual agreement that some answers are right and some are wrong. Everyone agrees those are the rules.

It’s their paradigm. And universities are incentivized to help their students succeed. Professors have office hours and they craft their curriculum with assignments that are achievable. Successful students mean a successful university.

Jobs have a different paradigm.

Some bosses make time for you. Many do not. And even the good ones have other people above them in the organization chart that they have to appease.

My experience as a professional has shown me again and again that businesses consider human resources chess pieces to play how they will. Growing, reducing, staffing up or reorganizing down, that’s just business.

Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.

So how is that going to fit into the worldview of Millennials? As adult children raised in an age of helicopter parenting and over-education, how are they going to fit in with the heartless corporate environment of the job market?

Highly educated and ambitious Millennials have a new sort of world to conquer when it comes to business.

It’s a new century–not even that new anymore. The twenty-somethings are all plugged into a new paradigm. The rest of us know it’s new, but maybe the Millennials don’t because it’s the air they breathe.

The talk at the water cooler is that Millennials in the workplace seem needy and require more feedback. Managers have little patience for it.

Then again. Would it be so bad to change the corporate culture of America to be more focused on the individual worker?

No doubt there will be some uncomfortable adjustments. Tapping the shoulder of an intimidating boss was more than I was willing to do when I started my career. I hadn’t had a history of positive responses to my suggestions.

Millenials have, so perhaps they can be emboldened to raise the issues to negotiate a better work environment. That same White House report show that Millennials are more interested in creative work environments than previous generations. Creativity, flexibility and room for friends and family.

This is an age of entreprenuerial efforts as well. If this generation is burdened with debt, they are also compensated with the widened horizons of the digital age. From the get-go, they know they are not stuck.

New entrants into the job market, with aspirations to start careers, are carrying a lot of freight. Debt and the oppressive climate of the Great Recession are non-trivial.

There are still way more reasons to be hopeful than grim.

We haven’t begun to tap the potential of collaborative problem-solving the digital age presents us with. And businesses need the Millennials more than the Millennials need those jobs. The future always seems to sneak up on us when we are doing something else, and the highly-educated, tech-savvy Millennials are the present and the future.

I better go get my shades.

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