By Portia Williams
Here’s a statistic from the U.S. Department of Labor that might shock you. By 2015 — that’s next year — the majority of the United States work force will be 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.”
Here’s how Sladek described the two generations: Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They are 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.
Ahead of them will be Generation Y, which consists of those 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.
“I think the big difference between us and prior generations is our great need to be connected to technology. We have to be on line. Social media is vital, such as Facebook. I take my iPad everywhere I go. I can quote, I can do insurance wherever I am at, and that is a huge difference between our generation and the other generations.” said 23-year-old Chance Cooper, 23, of American Family Insurance in Portsmouth.
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.
“The staff persons that I get from Generation Y, right out of high school, going into college, and I utilize them as interns, then I flex their schedule. They can make money while they are going to school, and they have an employer that will work with them,” she said. “They love the fact that they don’t have to be here nine to five, so I will flex with them if they need to, should they have something that comes up, and need to make an adjustment in their schedules.” Donna Wolery, owner of Farmer’s Insurance in Portsmouth, said.
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 along.
For many of the 80 million members of Generation Y, though, it has been a rough entry into the workforce.
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 and new efficiencies now see 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 posses.
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.
Lost in all the talk about Generation Y replacing baby boomers is Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1981. They’ll be working side-by-side with the two distinctly different generations. In many cases, they will be the ones managing the change.
“I think every generation has its own ups and downs. I think that the generation that we have now, Generation Y, works better with their generation than the Baby Boomers, or Generation X. The Y Generation definitely has a differently philosophy about how they think. Flexible hours, and things of that nature are becoming more of an issue. The largest population is not Generation Y, and so I think they are going to have to find a way to work with the Baby Boomers and Generation X before they take over, if you will.” Sean Boldman, president of American Family Insurance, and Trinity Business Group, in Portsmouth, said.
Portia Williams can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 286, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT. Lance Mihm and Jim Krumel from Civitas Media also contributed to this story.