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Gen Y: Entitled slackers or nimble creatives?

One article argues that their attitudes are what's needed in a new economy, but another thinks they can't adapt.

By Teresa Mears Mar 10, 2010 4:38PM

The popular perception of Generation Y, or the millennials, those young people between 18 and 29, is that they’re slackers, doomed by their own sense of entitlement and a bad economy to life in their parents’ basements because they can’t adapt to the reality of the marketplace.

 

But an article by Nancy Cook of Newsweek.com suggests that millennials’ attitudes will serve them well in this depressed economy and that they may actually be better at navigating the new economy.

 

She tells the story of several resilient young people, including 26-year-old Andrew Benton who has already started a Web-software company, works freelance for a cloud-computing company in Silicon Valley and doesn’t expect to ever hold a traditional 9-to-5 job. "I don't pay that much attention to what is going on in the economy," he told Cook. "I just found stuff I was interested in."

 

Cook wrote:

Whatever you make of this attitude -- smart, entitled, tech savvy, risky, or bold -- Benton is arguably the prototype of the new and perhaps ideal worker in the post-recession economy. Like many millennials, a.k.a. Generation Yers, he does not mind flitting from project to project and doesn't miss the traditional climb up the corporate ladder. He does not look to companies to provide safety nets such as health insurance, 401(k)s, or paid sick leave.
"The recession has confirmed a skepticism that's very deep for Gen Yers that there is no such thing as job security. You've got to be a free agent to pay the bills," says Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking, a Connecticut-based research firm that studies young people in the workplace.

Once more jobs are available, the millennials will promote themselves via social networks to find contract, short-term work instead of a steady paycheck. The new jobs being created -- in technology, computers, education and health care -- require serious technological, entrepreneurial and creative skills, where millennials excel, rather than expertise in operations or management, the province of older employees, Cook wrote.

"The economy is actually creating a type of work that suits millennials well and does not suit baby boomers," Karl Ahlrichs, a human-resources consultant, told Cole.

 

The millenials are facing some significant economic challenges, according to a report by the Pew Research Center, entitled “Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” Only 41% of 18- to 29-year-olds are employed full time, with 13% students or otherwise out of the workforce, 24% working part time and 22% unemployed. More than one-third, 36%, depend on support from their families, including 14% of those working full time.

Don Peck of The Atlantic, in a long and thoughtful (and depressing) story on “How a new jobless era will transform America,” is not optimistic about the millennials. He cites research by Yale economist Lisa Kahn, who found that not only are starting salaries lower during a recession, but that the workers don’t recover from that disparity when times improve.

 

Experts quoted by Peck are pessimistic about the millennials’ ability to adapt and argue that young people are less entrepreneurial and independent than their predecessors, not more so.

 

Ron Alsop, the author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” said millennials are used to checklists. They “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving,” he told Peck, and they “need almost constant direction” in the workplace. You can read this Wall Street Journal article adapted from his book.

 

Peck writes, “All of these characteristics are worrisome, given a harsh economic environment that requires perseverance, adaptability, humility and entrepreneurialism.”

 

Jonathan Lewis, a millennial writing in Advertising Age, thinks the recession may actually “knock a little sense into” his generation. His first piece of advice to his peers: Get over yourself.

If we're going to come out of this downturn alive, we're going to have to remember one thing: No one owes us anything. We earn what we get, and that "earn" part involves time and effort. Our employers and interviewers don't care if their demands interfere with our lunch appointment or 8 a.m. workout. And frankly, we can't afford to have the world revolve around us anymore. We must take a bite of humble pie, prove our value and get over our collective selves.

What do you think? Are today’s young people apathetic slackers who thinks the world owes them a living, or creative and nimble innovators who are well-equipped to cope with the new world of work? Or do you know some of each?

 

Related reading:

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