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Millennials Face Daunting Challenges in the Workforce

Jun. 27, 2017
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Illustration by Melissa Lee Johnson

Millennials have been branded as impatient, lazy, entitled and whiney ambassadors of #selfienation. They are now also the largest sector of the American workforce. Millennial can be a loaded word, sometimes dreaded by those who bear the label. And economic uncertainty, alongside job instability and information overload, has dealt the Millennials a difficult hand.

Millennial Employment Statistics

Even though they are commonly known for “job hopping,” Millennials’ job tenure isn’t any shorter than Gen X when they were the same age.

63.4% of Millennials have been with their current employer for 13 months or more, and 22% have been there 5 years or more according to a Pew Research Center study. Gen X was at 59.9% and 21.8% respectively in 2000.

The unemployment rate for those who are 20-24 years old for April 2017 was 7.3%.

47% of millennial managers reported an increase in hours worked in the last five years, versus 38% for Gen X and 28% for Boomers, according to a study done by Ernst & Young.

Contrary to popular belief, only 20% of Millennials said they prefer working from home according to a Randstad USA survey.

41% of Millennials say they prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face or even over the telephone according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers study.

Career progression is the top priority for millennials, with 52% calling it the main attraction in choosing an employer. Competitive salaries came in second place at 44% according to the same PWC study.

32.1% of Millennials live with their parents according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study.

What does it take to be a Millennial in the 2017 working class? Are we adulting…or nah?

Making a living doesn’t look the same as it did 20 or even 10 years ago. Many Millennials are juggling multiple jobs within and outside their degree fields amid a rapidly changing career landscape.

Dana Chrzanowski is a 26-year-old, 4K and early childhood education teacher, among other things. “I have to babysit, like, all the time to afford life,” she says. Between teaching and babysitting she is also applying to hostess part time.

Then there’s Dylan Gilje, a 29-year-old self-employed photographer. He is also a film director and Topper’s delivery driver. He takes school and sports pictures by day (“little brats and their baseball bats,” he jokes) while also subcontracting for several studios. He does anything from cameraman work to coffee runs.


Paying Off Those Student Loans

The Millennial struggle is to try to make a living, using a college degree in an environment that scarcely resembles previous generations. Gilje laughs when asked about his college debt. He admits his “children’s children” will be paying off his loans. Hard work ethics don’t seem to be the missing variable here, though. Unless you’re sporting a medical or law degree, prepare to be a weekend waitress warrior for a little while longer.

Chrzanowski would just like to be able to afford a house someday, but knows the only way to do that would be to work all the time. “It’s such a different time now, and people tend to stereotype things they don’t understand,” she says. “Maybe they don’t understand how hard we’re working, how much debt we have.” Many people her parents’ age, for example, didn’t go to college, but still earn a good living in careers with benefits and insurance. “We don’t get any of that even though we went to school for so long,” she says.

Enter Alex Garra, President and Co-founder of American Bocce Co., business owner and Millennial at 31. He spent much of his early 20s working in restaurants and trying to find a job with his business degree. Necessity eventually prompted him to strike out on his own by developing American Bocce. He and two others slowly transformed a community social club into an innovative business owned and operated by Millennials.

“I guess I tend to look at the more positive spins on those stereotypes,” Garra says. “I think it’s really cool that most of my friends and peers and people that influence me are not tying themselves to one line of work or one position for the rest of their life.”

Stereotypes may emerge from certain trends, but this young generation has been branded with a lot of negative press. “I feel like it depends on the person,” Chrzanowski says. “I feel stereotyped, but I wasn’t coddled and I’m not lazy.”


Instant Digital Gratification

Technology seems to be the last puzzle piece in building and maintaining a career. Millennials have grown used to instant gratification, which can sometimes heighten their impatience. However, these tools have paved the way for groundbreaking innovation.

“I think it’s definitely difficult to have as many choices as we do,” Garra says. “I think it’s a beautiful and brilliant thing to have all of the information readily available to us.” None of the three seems to think that technology in itself is the problem.

The generational paradigm is in flux. Millennials are fighting a system stacked against them with a digital arsenal of information at their fingertips. What does it take to be a Millennial in the workforce? A lot.

“It’s a nightmare. Literally a nightmare,” Chrzanowski says. That doesn’t stop her from working like crazy so she can keep up her true passion in teaching. “I have like, seven tax forms to do,” Gilje says. “But that’s what it takes; it’s that grind.” He’s not the first one to juggle jobs, but he’s doing it with determination and hard-won skills.

“There are ups and downs to every side of it, and certainly entry-level Millennial jobs are not usually very well paid, but it’s an opportunity to work on your craft or explore opportunities or to meet people that might help pivot you to your next direction, and I think that’s a really cool thing,” Garra says.


Meeting the Challenges

Millennials are approaching and shaping the workforce in ways that are new and untested by their predecessors. They are meeting the challenges of working in a digital era with innovative solutions, and they are doing it their way. Give them a little time to adjust and expect big things from the generation of underestimated, empowered Millennials.


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