“They seem to think highly of themselves.”
“They have a ‘baby-on-board’ protected mentality.”
“They’re always connected to their phones.”
The above was actual employer feedback from a large area employer about the young people sent to Victoria County Career Services (VCCS). It wasn’t the only business feedback.
- “Expect to move into the same job someone else has had for years.”
- “They question everything.”
- “They have less patience” for repetitive tasks, if the tasks aren’t meaningful.
- “They have an expectation to be paid well.”
- “They don’t like authoritarian style” of employers.
- “They’re needy.”
These are many of the prevailing stereotypes Millennialls face, reflected in the employers’ comments. But are any – or all of them — true?
Carol Timlin, executive director of VCSS, says young people today “just haven’t had the same kind of work experiences growing up” as older generations.
“Young people haven’t had the opportunity to build those soft skills,” like strong communication abilities, and employers are noticing this lack, she says.
Timlin estimates about half of the young people they see at VCCS could probably use some improvement here, whether in communication skills or the ability to self-reflect. On the plus side, she points out that this can improve with some work.
Is part of the communication challenge for Millennials the fact that they have grown up in an era where many no longer know how to relate, except via their cell phones? Is the technological addiction debilitating lives?
A Millennial’s Perspective
One Lindsay-area Millennial, Allyssa Adams, admits the cell phone addiction is real. At 28, she’s on the older end of the Millennial spectrum but still identifies with the group overall.
“I can’t deny that one,” says Adams.
Last year, she realized her addiction to social media was so intense she knew she had to do something about it.
“I quit it all last year,” says Adams, who is the administrative assistant for Kawartha Lakes Family Health Team.
She removed her Facebook and Instagram apps from her cell phone and in their place, exactly where the apps used to be, she placed ‘counter’ apps there instead – apps that would literally count the number of times they were pressed.
In 16 days, she had hit those counter buttons more than 100 times, all of them subconscious attempts to try and access her social media apps.
“I was brutally addicted,” says Adams.
Today, she’s back on social media and no longer lets it rule her life as it did before.
On the other hand, Adams takes issue with some of the stereotypes she hears about her generational group. For instance, she believes Millennials should indeed be questioning some things when it comes to their employers. She can think of an easy example. Like many of her generation, she is technologically savvy. While working for one previous employer, Adams noticed that a simple calendar of events could hold more content if it was simply shifted to portrait style instead of landscape.
Her employer refused. When she asked why, he replied:
“Because we’ve always done it this way.”
“I appreciate older people’s learned experience very much. These are people who can help you learn from their past mistakes. But we should be able to question things respectfully,” she says.
It’s because Millennials have grown up with so much information at their fingertips, explains Adams, that questioning and finding out new things comes naturally to them.
Adams also believes there is a difference between Millennials of her age and the ones who are about 10 years younger. She has noticed that these younger Millennials seem to have grown up with more helicopter parenting styles and are often not even allowed to exercise rite-of-passage independence. This includes finding their own rides to and from places, or being made to find a job.
“I have a 19-year-old cousin who is not allowed to walk to work,” she says, noting his mother insists on driving him.
“You can tell he wants more independence,” but in many cases it is the parents who are holding growth back, she says.
As a society, why have we become so over-protective and stifling in our children’s lives? Why do we have a steady stream of cars in front of schools, both elementary and secondary, where kids emerge from one protective bubble into another bubble for a day of learning, with no sense of independence and responsibility in between? Why do we expect them to be able to launch into their lives at 18, if we haven’t let them experience what walking to school is like?
Timlin, at VCCS, says she is seeing more mental health issues compared to previous years in the Millennials who come through her employment agency’s door.
“In the last couple of years I am hearing more and more about anxiety and anxiety disorders that young people seem to be facing,” she says.
“Many don’t seem to think they can handle full-time work,” Timlin says.
She notes that they have a pool of money to give to employers for hiring youth with certain barriers to employment, but VCCS is not even using it all. That’s because there are not enough employees stepping forward to claim the full-time jobs.
“Emotionally, it seems like full-time work is just too much for them to handle,” she says.
On the other hand, Timlin says they do have some young high achievers, too.
“We just don’t hear about them as often.”
On a more positive note from the same employer that was providing feedback, it was noted that Millennials:
- “Were globally connected.”
- “They accepted constant change.”
- “They are comfortable with diversity.”
- “They value quality of life.”
- “They seek good learning opportunities.”
It’s clear that the Millennials who are working hard want to see they are working toward a greater cause. They want to see the results of their work, to do something worthwhile, and know they are a part of creating something tangible. Do they need to exercise more patience, though, and be more accountable in those early days before they can begin the meaningful work they want to be engaged in?
One Lindsay business, Home Hardware and its family of stores, has seen its share of Millennials and employs about 15 people in this age bracket at their Lindsay Design Centre.
Frank Geerlinks is the general manager of all the area Home Hardware stores. He says he sometimes has to point out to younger employees that their shift is 9-6, and doesn’t start at 9:15 am.
“I’m not a fan of micromanaging people. I just want them to be accountable for their own work,” he says.
Geerlinks says the phone addiction that young people seem to have “drives me crazy.”
One young employee, whom he generally thinks of as as good worker, was caught taking selfies during her shift.
“That’s a no-no,” says Geerlinks. “I think it’s worse than years ago,” this addiction to technology and social media.
Chamber of Commerce Insights
Mike Perry is the president of the Lindsay and District Chamber of Commerce. He says he is “leery of labels” and yet he takes these issues seriously in response to what he has heard.
“We’ve heard these concerns from member businesses for sure,” says Perry.
Perry says what he’s mainly hearing is that business owners want young people “to be able to do work with a minimum of instructions and directions, and to have good follow-through.”
“Employees are our greatest resource, so how do we invest in them?” the chamber president asks rhetorically.
One way the chamber is stepping up to help is to create a series of ‘master classes’ for business owners. One that is particularly relevant, Perry points out, is ‘The Future of Your Business: Lessons on how to successfully hire, motivate and retain ‘Millennials,’ to be held later this month.
“I think we need to treat people on a case by case basis,” says Perry.
And, the chamber president points out, “we want to attract good employers to the area, so we can have better paying jobs.”
“To do that, we have to figure out how to work together and learn from each other, both employers and employees.”
If we take a step back, then, what are the solutions?
We live in an age of ease and convenience that is unparalleled in human history. We don’t wash dishes, we load dishwashers. Most of us don’t grow our own food, we select what we want from grocery stores that offer a multitude of choices from around the world. If we want to know something, we no longer truly research, we simply ‘Google.’
It seems ironic to older people that many in this generation who live in an age of such ease and convenience – Millennials – should be paralyzed by such deep-rooted anxiety.
Is this a reflection of the fact that we increasingly let kids consume technology ravenously, like YouTube channels and gaming, instead of focusing on real-world play and interactions?
Is it a reflection of our helicopter parenting, based on media-stoked fears and our deep desire to let our kids know how ‘special’ they are?
If we have a generation where so many people feel anxious enough that they cannot work full time, then then what will the fate of our town be?
What can each of us do?