Depending on whom you talk to, millennials are either the shining beacons leading us to the next iteration of the American Dream or the telltale signs of a world going under; they’re either more creative than previous generations, able to find fresh solutions to longstanding problems in their industries, or they are entitled narcissists who care only about themselves and will create further problems for the generations following them.
Like any generation in the workforce, millennials are defined by their perceived extremes, the stereotypical behaviors people expect of them, and the ways they surprisingly thwart expectations.
Less Money, More Problems
Whether we think millennials are a net positive or negative for the workforce, the truth is that they’re a little more educated than their parents, but poorer overall. The Atlantic reports that young adults today make $2,000 less per year than they did back in 1980, after accounting for inflation.
This fact could mean a number of things, but none of them sound appealing: wage increases for jobs could be falling behind the inflation rate; millennials could be taking low-paying jobs due to a skills gap; the increased unemployment rate could account for the difference in earnings; etc. Derek Thompson, author of the article and senior editor at the Atlantic, posits that this figure is the result of a more polarized economy:
“Many young adults, particularly those who represent their families’ first college graduates, are earning more than their parents. But young adults without a college degree have been run roughshod by technological changes, globalization, and slow wage growth that continues to this very week.”
Higher Education Meets Higher Debt
This disconnect between millennials’ higher levels of education and their bleaker financial situations reveals a few things about the way this generation is handling the current job market. Millennials are prone to staying in college longer than they need to in order to avoid entering a rough job market in which they may not have the skills to compete. Of course, this leads to more degrees: 34 percent of 25-29-year-olds have a bachelor’s or master’s degree —the highest percentage on record.
However, millennials are also staying in school longer in order to find jobs that pay well enough to help them work off the loans they took out to attend college and find good jobs in the first place. The average millennial faces a student-loan debt of about $33,000 when they leave college. Because of these high debt loads, 33 percent of millennials are putting off marriage with their partners until later in life, when they have better chances to earn more and pay off some of their debt.
Poverty, Creativity, and Meaning
How can recruiters help assuage the fears of millennials, who may worry about finding jobs to pay off their college loans?
All told, 40 percent of millennials want a job with a sense of meaning, whether that’s intrinsically challenging/rewarding work or work that they can connect to their larger senses of purpose in the world. If employers can make millennials feel like their work matters, they’re more likely to apply for jobs at the company and stay for the long haul.
Above all, millennials seem to want creativity and meaning, and they’re getting better at accomplishing their goals as long as employers are willing to let them be themselves. Kathy Caprino, a career coach and contributor to Forbes, offers employers this piece of advice:
“Between Wikipedia, Kahn Academy, recorded lectures, mobile study apps[,] and Google searching through books (why read and browse for data or quotes?), [m]illennials have learned that they will succeed by doing things their way. Thus, they’re deeply drawn to work that promises self-direction, work-life balance, fulfillment[,] and other benefits and perks that come across as entitled to older generations.”
This won’t make the problems looming over millennials go away. They still have a tough road ahead of them when it comes to staving off debt and overcoming the stereotypes that surround them. But if we embrace their increased creativity and leverage their higher levels of education, everyone – employers and millennials – will benefit.