Next year the largest age group in the United States’ workforce will be those in their 20s.
In other words, get in the back seat of the car, baby boomers. You’re no longer driving the American work force. For business owners, understanding who is now behind the wheel will go a long way toward determining their future success.
“Company executives have been so preoccupied with the recession and driven by quarterly reports that they have failed to plan for work force development,” said Sarah Sladek, the chief executive officer of XYZ University, a Minnesota-based consulting company that researches generational and marketplace trends.
“Many companies — even entire industries — are already in danger of ‘aging out’ because they haven’t been able to appeal to younger generations,” she said.
What motivates a baby boomer is quite different than that of someone in Generation Y.
Here’s how Sladek described the two generations:
Baby boomers: They were born between 1946 and 1964 and are considered loyal and work-centric. This generation has lived through many changes, and often equates salaries and long hours with success and commitment to the workplace.
The job comes first and they value face time in the office. High levels of responsibility, perks and challenges motivates this generation. Next year, these 50- to 68-year-olds will occupy 30 percent of the work force.
Generation Y: At the other end of the work force spectrum is this group, which consists of those young adults born between 1982 and 1995. Also known as the millennials, these 19- to 32-year-olds will represent 39 percent of the work force next year. They have grown up with computers, laptops and smart phones as their toys. This generation has never known anything but a hi-tech world.
“They put access to technology on the same level as oxygen and freedom,” Sladek said.
It is Generation Y’s fearless nature toward technology that is opening doors for them. They don’t flinch when it comes to change; they simply deal with it with little second thought. They thrive in the fast lane with their ability to multi-task.
Yet, while this group is creative, optimistic and achievement-oriented, woe to the employer who forgets about their need to be praised.
“We all love praise, but this is the generation of children that were playing soccer and tee-ball where everyone got a reward because parents wanted to make the children feel confident. They need immediate feedback. They need to externally be told they are doing a great job,” said Cynthia Spiers, vice president of student affairs at Rhodes State College in Lima, Ohio.
At the same time, most of Generation Y harbors no ties to the mother ship. While they’ll work hard for their employer, only one-third of Generation Y members say their current job is their career, and nearly 60 percent have switched careers already. By the time they retire, some labor experts say they will have worked for 16 or more companies, meaning they average three to four years on the job before moving on.
Such hasn’t happened yet for Trucksville native Kevin Rose, but he says it’s part of his five-year plan.
The 25-year-old turned a college internship into a promising job with the Manhattan-based production company, Rooster New York.
Even with clients like Pepsi, Dos Equis and Johnson & Johnson, and a few national awards to the company’s credit, Rose says Rooster is a stop on the road.
“In five years, I would like to see myself in some sort of staff writing position, possibly for some television comedy,” Rose said.
Rooster primarily creates video advertisements for the Web, and though Rose believes he has yet to find just what he’s looking for in an employer, he still values the experience and connections he makes through Rooster, he said.
And he’d be in line with most in his generation made of those who delay to commit to a company until they truly learn what the company, the job and their boss is about, said Jack Staugler, director of human resources for Cooper Farms, one of the largest family-owned turkey processing companies in the United States.
That’s not a bad thing when both the company and the workers believe they are the right fit for each other.
“I’ve seen many talented young people who have embraced what they do and want to do it to the best of their ability,” Staugler said. “They want to learn as many jobs as they can, as quick as they can and can’t wait to try the next new thing.”
Like many like him, Rose is using his account manager’s position to learn the business, learn who the players are and gain valuable experience.
“It’s an encouraging environment for whatever you want to do. I think it’s a good playground, you know what I mean?” Rose said. “It’s a great place to learn. You learn to do every aspect of production.”
Haves, have nots
For many of the 80 million members of Generation Y, though, it has been a rough entry into the work force.
Much of that is a result of the Great Recession, which hit in December 2007. Even in its aftermath, it continues to force companies to run leaner, smarter and considerably faster as they redefine how they do business.
New technologies have produced workplace procedures that now allow a single worker doing the jobs once performed by multiple employees. It has created the “haves” and the “have nots” of Generation Y, a dividing line that sharply separates one’s ability to be hired by the type of education they possess.
The “have nots” will continue to struggle to find jobs throughout this decade.
Gen Y’ers who have graduated from college or trade schools with specialized degrees such as engineering or welding will find themselves in great demand.
Johnny Wallace, 19, of Lake Township, hasn’t found his niche yet, but certainly he is building a nice portfolio of credentials.
He left West Side Career and Technical Center last fall with a machinist’s certification and immediately started at a local machine shop where he had worked through the high school co-op program.
But things soured between Wallace and his boss in October when he requested four days off after his grandmother died. They butted heads when his boss told him four days was too much time. The standard in Pennsylvania is three days for bereavement leave for a grandparent.
“What really made me mad, I never missed a day of work, ever,” Wallace said.
Other issues persisted in driving wide the rift between Wallace and his boss. And, a few days later, he quit.
With mechanical skills beyond the machine shop, Wallace took a job at Malak’s Auto Parts, a Shavertown junkyard.
He’s in the middle of a six-week course at Luzerne County Community College for his Commercial Driver’s License. While he said the shop skills are a good safety net, he wants to see the country, and there are a few local trucking companies that will hire him after he turns 21 and send him to the West Coast and back a few times a month.
“I wanna go over the road and go coast to coast,” he said. “I want to see the world, see what it’s like. That’d be neat.”
With a little more specialized training, Wallace’s work ethic and curiosity could make him a good prospect for Crown Equipment, an Ohio-based forklift manufacturer.
“We’ve got a reputation for pushing boundaries in technology and innovation. This can be very appealing to all potential employment candidates, and this is especially true with those individuals who have grown up with technology and embrace it,” said Peter Falk, director of human resources for Crown Equipment.
Such companies will be the ones that continue to secure the most talented work forces in the future, Sladek said.
“Generation Y wants an employer to engage their minds and hearts,” Sladek said. “They want to know they belong, that they have a sense of ownership. They don’t want to be told what to do; they want to have a dialogue.”
Changing of guard
While companies currently hold the upper hand when it comes to hiring, Sladek predicts that soon will change. Employers are entering a period that will see them in a heated battle for talent, she said. If a company is to be a destination site for talented workers, she said it cannot ignore the needs, desires and attitudes of Generation Y.
Bonnie Leonhardt, a professor and baby boomer at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, believes Generation Y has learned from baby boomers.
“As a boomer, I think our work ethic — or workaholic ways, depending on the age of the observer — is our exceptional trait,” said Leonhardt. “I think Gen X saw the dark side of that growing up with overworked parents. I think boomers also don’t realize that as the constant majority, we may have become lazy about communicating outside of our group. Gen X adjusted to us, but this new generation is going to present challenges.”
Amy Turriziani of Kingston stands at the helm of Generation Y. At 33, she toes the line as a Gen X-er leading the way for “today’s generation.” But she also shares the kind of workaholic tendencies held by previous generations.
“The job provides a challenge,” Turriziani said. “And I feel I am in the same generation as the baby boomers with my work ethic. As long as I get recognized and I keep working up the chain, I don’t have any reason to leave.”
Turriziani works for Sanofi Pasteur, a pharmaceuticals manufacturer with world headquarters in Swiftwater, Monroe County. Her official title is external testing manager of global clinical immunology, a fancy way to say she is a project manager.
Turriziani left King’s College, fresh with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and began working as a temporary employee for Sanofi’s labs near Philadelphia.
As soon as she learned of an opening in the Northeast Pennsylvania headquarters, she seized the opportunity, knowing full well jobs there are in high demand. Sanofi employs about 3,000 in their Swiftwater location.
Unlike Rose and Wallace, the lines between work time and personal time are a bit more blurred.
“I still have a very active life outside of work,” Turriziani said. “But if I’m needed at work, or if I need to travel for work, then yes, it absolutely takes precedence.”
Looking forward, Turriziani said it’s not likely she will seek a job elsewhere.
“The benefits that they offer are just outstanding,” she said of Sanofi. “So there’s really no reason for me to jump ship unless it’s a sweeter deal.”
As she navigates the corporate ocean, Turriziani found while the entry-level positions were highly-competitive, the name of the game is changing as her peers more often have elevated degrees.
“I’m reaching a point where I’m competing with people with higher degree levels,” Turriziani said, but continued to say the company would back her up if she wanted to climb a few more rungs on the ladder.
“I think that if I decide my end goal is to increase my responsibility, the company will offer education reimbursement,” she said. “I’m just not sure.”
For some like Rose, the line dividing career goals and personal maintenance could be no clearer. He doesn’t check his emails on the weekends and carves out time daily to decompress.
“I try to spend an hour each night doing something like listening to music, or bike riding,” Rose said. “On the weekends, I don’t check my email until Sunday night. It’s just something you don’t need to worry about all the time.”
Despite uncertainty in readying the field for tomorrow’s work force, Leonhardt is optimistic about the contribution Generation Y will make in the future as it works to balance job and home life, she said.
“I think they are more tolerant, open, and not as interested in presenting a front as earlier generations,” Leonhardt said. “If they do succeed in bringing more work-life balance to the work place — and I think the jury is still out on that one — I think they will have made a real contribution.”