Young Professionals

A multigenerational staff discusses working in a multigenerational workforce

My Generation album coverImage via Wikipedia

I had the pleasure of doing a workshop recently for a staff of career services professionals at Iowa State. The staff was conducting a beginning-of-the-year retreat and wanted to address the issue of working in a multigenerational workforce. The staff of about 10 people ranged from early Baby Boomers to late Millennials.

To have that range in an office this small provides a very unique opportunity to study multiple generational interactions as they happen, while also helping to prepare students for those same realities as they enter the workforce.

The staff discussed an idea that has been addressed in comments on this blog before,  the idea that the study of generational issues is not an exact science. In reality, descriptions of varying generations are broad generalizations. One should be careful not to believe that all people who are born between year "x" and year "y" behave in a particular manner, because there is more to be taken away from someone’s personality or behavior profile then his or her age. However, age is important as those common experiences that happen during a particular time period do shape our perspectives, which in turn influences our personality or behavior.

This sentiment regarding experiences was evident in the room as the group was divided into pairs to discuss what irritated them about those they knew in other age groups. Each pair talked about the lack of appreciation for some type of perspective or experience that they personally held dear. It was clear that the group did not want to label themselves.

What was interesting to note was the response from the Millennials toward the belief that they behave like an entitled group. The 20-year-olds in the room said that they always been taught to play nice we each other, that can achieve whatever they want and that technology will make your life easier. As I thought about their responses two questions dawned on me: When did this become a bad idea? Are Millennials the first generation in ages to actually listen to their parents? The massive number of Millennials would have me think that Gen Xers feel overshadowed and Boomers feel rivaled by this assertive generation that has yet to fully experience life…and seem to be okay with it!

As the staff affectionately discussed these issues, they came to the conclusion that for older generations an opportunity exists to teach younger generations…if the older generation is also willing to learn from them. The conclusion for younger generations challenged their demographic to set themselves apart individually by listening to the advise of their older colleagues or settle into the negative stereotype that they have of them.

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An Analysis of "The Age Curve"

So I finally got the chance to go through my book list and read a few books I’ve been eying for months.  Most of the books I read I'm attracted to by the cover. Then, when time is available, I sneak over to Barnes and Noble or some other book retailer and read the gist of the book until I get becomes bland and predictable. It had been a while since I read a book that really sparked my interest enough that I could not put it down. One book in particular caught my eye because of the title The Age Curve: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm by Ken Gronbach. I grabbed the book with skepticism, but was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

I was worried that it would be another book that addressed generational differences from a surface level approach that dabbled in generalities, broad conclusions and snarky commentary about millennial 411NICIKZVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ behavior. Instead, I read an entertaining book filled with statistics and demographics, but clothed in stories and anecdotes that compel you to continue reading.

Gronbach is not afraid to call out certain industries and companies for their failed and failing approach to answering the generation question. He surprised me by spending significant time explaining the impact of the generation dip that is Gen X and the impact that will have in the business world. Finally, someone else sees this issue and is not overlooking them to focus purely on Millennials or Boomers. Gronbach shows how the dwindling number of Generation X and certain marketers failure to focus on generation demographic shifts caused a devastating drop in profit margin.  Just look at Honda's motorcycle and Levi jeans as examples.

Gronbach explains how, and more importantly why, Millennials are beginning to affect the market in significant ways. He goes on to answer the question that many generation critics have about the study and explains, through compelling case studies, why certain businesses and industries are doing well and others are not depending on how they've responded the change in generational size and taste.

Why not completely absolved of problems, for instance the book can be repetitive at times, Gronbach goes beyond what most similar books on generational issue miss and that’s explain not only the “what” but also the “why."

Kudos to The Age Curve for taking what can be a dry subject and injecting lively anecdotes in with interesting facts. Yes I did eventually buy this book.

Generation X: Who needs them?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Gen X sucks! It's just not as sexy as the other generations it falls between. The Silent Generation defeated the Nazis, Boomers started a revolution, and Millennials are saving the planet. Generation X is so bad it doesn’t even have a name, just an X. Gen Xers are the smallest of the four generations with a dip in the population line by about 20-30 million. While most of the attention of young professionals is focused on this overconfident, happy and resourceful millennial generation, what’s forgotten is that YP’s still have a large Gen X segment in them. 

If we use the current membership guidelines of most YP groups the age out limitation is usually 40 years of age, the most restrictive are capped at 35 years of age. Most research points to 1980 as being the arbitrary gateway to be considered a Millennial. Those two facts together suggest that the working world has at least five to 10 years left of Gen Xer’s preparing to take over. The population gap gives opportunities to Boomers to stay past their prime and Millennials to seize the day as well. However, for the Xer, their life experience of critical thinking, skepticism, isolation and standing in the shadows will be a highly valuable experience for management and leadership.

Gen Xers experience being caught in the middle positions and will have to deal with the largest generation gap since 1969 and the subsequent problems that brings, such as differing views on politics, religion, leadership and technology. In regards to technology, Gen X is already showing its leadership. While many seek Millennials for understanding of the latest Web 2.0 technology, it is Gen X, not Millennials, that is leading the charge with the most buzz worthy of social media tools: Twitter.

Millennials have not caught on to Twitter as much as Gen X has, but looking at the 3-year-old service that Twitter is, its millions of users, its rapid growth, diversity of third party applications, and its saturation in print and media., makes it a force to be reckoned with. In addition, its ability to break real time events like the overseas uprising in Iran, the stateside death of Michael Jackson in and even more localized events like the dismissal of public from the State Capitol, give Twitter a legitimacy that other platforms just don’t have. Gen X can be proud to lead the charge in this area and be content with anticipation over joining the leadership circle and finally getting some respect.

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Reflection on the Passing of Three Cultural Icons

Michael JacksonMichael Jackson via

Last week, each generation lost three cultural icons: Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Their lives had great meaning and contributed much to the popular culture. Pop culture, as silly as it can be sometimes, provides energy in an otherwise boring world, so when pop icons vanish it feels as if part of our own history our own identity has also left.  

As some eulogize these figures, many are thinking back to a life experience that somehow involved one of these stars. Though many might argue over the abundance of attention a celebrity’s death may get compared to the average person, the truth is we were able to chronicle our own lives and identity by watching them. Sometimes it was comparing our actions and sometimes it was contrasting our actions to theirs. Yet even in their passing these icons provide a reflecting lesson for the generations to take.

Ed McMahon knew his role, found success and thought it would never go away; a great legacy that in latter years was trying to regain relevance, not for limelight’s sake but for humility’s purpose. McMahon did things the right way until things changed and McMahon was left.

As the world changing Boomers now face a changing world, it is fascinating to see the struggle to pass down not just the memories of their past, but its significance and purpose to future generations that may not be as willing to absorb all its predecessors lessons.

Farah Fawcett’s death was probably the most heroic, her fight had been long chronicled, and in the end it was bitter sweet. However, before the end of the day it was largely overshadowed by the death of Michael Jackson. As time goes on she will be re-eulogized in a way that is not overshadowed, and the courage of waning days will be celebrated.

While the focus has been on Boomers and Millennials, Gen X characteristically has been overlooked. But as I’ve noticed of Gen X's embrace of an imperfect world is the generation's realization that they have to lead regardless of being in the shadows of two behemoth generations.

Jackson’s legacy was multi-generational. However, Jackson’s persona can only fully be measured from a generation that only remembers him when he was at his peak. There is no question that Millennials are a self-aware group searching to find their place in the world of work. Jackson grew up in the limelight, which allowed him much influence. But away from the stage it created a real sense of vulnerability that in the end was probably his downfall.

USA Today published a report recently referring to Millennials as the “recession generation” and indicating that this generation had particular dreams and expectations that all of a sudden took a turn when the economy tanked. Now a generation that has always been taught it was invincible is starting to realize it s vulnerability.

Thee is much more we can take away from the lives of these individuals, but let's continue to look at the lessons their lives teach us.

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Networking on the Green

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Networking on the Green, held at the Principal Charity Classic. The event was hosted by a couple of friends of mine and provided an opportunity to blend young professionals with CEOs and upper management of some of Iowa’s best companies.

Headlined by J. Barry Griswell, regarding his new book, the folks in the room were given an opportunityDSC_3409 that many never have, to ask the former CEO of a Fortune 200 company what it takes to be successful. As Griswell spoke about “owning the problem,” I thought about how many in the room had grew up not having to do just that.

Yet his message was embracing and lacked the instructional tone that I’ve heard from others of older generations who tackle the subject.

It seemed as if the theme of Griswell’s message was the “key to success is being okay with failure," a particularly useful message for a generation that is pretty bold by most standards. However, looking across the room, I’m not sure if the attendees soaked that in or not. This observation and Griswell’s advise pushed me to ask back the question “what’s the difference between going against the grain/conventional wisdom and just being plain crazy?”  Specifically, I was thinking about the person who is overaggressive with passion, but no sense of reality to navigate accordingly. Griswell's answer focused on the importance to still play by the rules, another important key. However, I wish I had an opportunity to ask a follow up question. I probably could have given many of the young pups in the room seemed intimidated by his 6 foot 7 inch frame, and failed to ask any questions of him or the other CEOs in the more intimate speed networking sessions.

The scheduled speed networking was an exercise that tends to reward keen listeners and punish avid talkers. However, it was neither who benefited, as most listeners never got to hear what they wanted nor did most talkers get to say what they wanted. Alas, that is the beauty of a speed-networking event; the ones that are skilled enough to listen and appropriately interject a question or comment in the right timing are the ones that benefit the most. The point of the event was to be a catalyst that leads to further discussions independently, not the nucleus.

I think most of those people in particular were aware that this was not the moment to sell their product or service, but to learn and build relationships, so it was rewarding to see both CEOs and YPs stay well after the event to “finish” conversations and follow up on thoughts. As a matter of fact, I think the experience of sharing with peers afterward - sharing our thoughts on networking - was just as rewarding as listening to the mentoring thoughts of Des Moines business leaders. What was not lost on me were the CEOs and serial YP networkers that weren’t there, and I wonder if an encore event is planned for the future, how will the uniqueness be preserved?

Brain Drain Solutions Part 3: Provide Value

 Okay, I get it!  Brain drain is such a derogatory phrase. It hurts our feelings; it insinuates that those of us who are staying don't have a brain. What else do you call it when pools of your best-educated minds leave their contained space for a large cesspool?  Some other suggestions: heart dart, hand scram or a worker diaspora. Call it whatever you want, but in order to deal with the problem we have to address it; not cover it up, deny it, or runaway from it. Research shows that young people are leaving Iowa and the Midwest because No. 1, they can't find a job in their related field, or No. 2, the job doesn't pay enough.

Most would assume pay matters because this is a selfish materialistic generation. Those who believe thatBlog haven’t studied this generation.  A collective goal orientated generation such as the millennials aren’t looking to run in the rat race, what they are looking for is value. Oftentimes value is manifested by what we make. The young professional has a sense that if I have X skill set its exchange value should be Y. 

"Tell us something we don’t know.” Sure everyone wants more money, however, are we looking at why more money is desired?  Possibly for some businesses, the abilities to pay lower salaries and wages is what attracts them to locate in Iowa in the first place. For the young professional, more money is wanted because there is a higher debt load, a realization of a cost of living fallacy and a greater sense of expectancy. More is being asked of today’s worker than ever before, so if that’s the case either pay me what I feel I’m valued or I go elsewhere.

For those of us that have stayed in or relocated to Iowa, we have seen the value elsewhere. One of Iowa’s chief commodities is its people. If you ask many non-natives why we chose to stay here, usually it was because of someone we met. Consider the number of foreigners who are here because of marriage, sorority, or extended family. Bingo! you have the very piece of value that trumps money: meaningful relationships. The reason mentoring, internships and apprenticeships work so well is that they create an opportunity to build relationships.

The more a business can create an environment where the worker feels that he or she belongs and contributes to a greater cause, the more likely the he or she will stay. The more a worker’s contribution is seen as essential and valued as such, the worker will stay. When worker’s skill set X is exchanged for value Y, the workers will come. If Y is not money, then what is Y?  What are businesses doing to create meaningful professional relationships?

Quality of life improvements are only important in so much as they help build relationships; they are not end pieces, but rather tools. People don’t move in droves to LA, Denver, Atlanta, or New York because of their natural geological features. They move because they believe there are opportunities that will lead to relationships. Iowa is doing its part and it's starting to pay some dividends.  Our national press has increased, Iowa cities are popping up on rankings after rankings, Iowa is becoming quite a regional film Mecca. Now business must just follow suit... A daunting task made easier when young professionals do their part to solve the brain drain issue…

Brain Drain Solutions Part 2: Learn the Lessons of Social Media

Henry Ford gained success by taking a system that already existed (the assembly line) and applying it to a whole new industry (automobiles). That type of innovation changed not just an industry, but also an era. I would argue in dealing with Young Professionals (YPs), business needs to do the same. Businesses should take a cue from the success that social media has had in reaching those under the age of 40, and apply those lessons to their brain-drain dilemma. Specifically, social media can teach businesses five lessons.

1. Embrace technology. Most people would say they appreciate technology, but too often the older generation looks at new technology as "kids stuff". There is a difference between accepting technology and embracing it. Those that accept technology bring on these new tools because they have to not because they want to. Embracing technology implies enthusiastically and patiently seeking comprehensive ways to utilize these tools efficiently. Technology can be a complicated investment, but shouldn’t be dismissed callously because one group doesn’t understand it. 

2. Encourage collaboration. More people go to college now than ever before and the number that are looking at graduate-level work is also increasing. It is safe to say this is a smart generation. It is also smart enough to realize that if they don't know something, they know where to get it. YPs have grown up in the information age, where knowledge is at the tips of their fingers. In addition to social networking, blogs, wikis and P2P are other applications based on networks sharing information. If economics always Braindrain2 values interdependency, then businesses that encourage workers to collaborate will find more productivity, better relationships among staff and another reason for the YP to stick around.

3. Allow for personalization. The brand of the company is important and comes first, but what makes it authentic is when people can see how it relates to them. YPs (and over the course of history, young people in general) have always rebelled against conformity. Allowing employees to make it work for them will enhance, not detract from the overall brand. As a mentor of mine said "make theirs, yours and make yours, theirs"

4. Provide flexibility. There is no work/life balance for this new generation; there is only life, in which work is a part of it. If management continues to make issues out of casual Fridays, sick leave, or work start time, workers will continue to finds ways around it. With this generation, the ends justify the means, so to many of them, these rules are arbitrary, and will be broken. It is crucial to explain the rationale behind time honored policies and be willing to compromise on some of them, if that flexibility provides increased productivity.

5. Be visual. There shouldn't be any surprise that kids in school (now our emerging workforce) have trouble concentrating. The ability to control what you want to read on the internet, images not staying stagnant on TV for no more than 7 seconds, and instant everything from news, to tanning, to coffee, have placed a heavy burden on communication. For messages to get across they just need to be seen. The idea that a picture paints a thousand words is more alive than ever. Businesses would benefit in clarity to have as many ideas, concepts and directives be complemented with visual references.

These five lessons can be applied to work stations, duties, meetings, et cetera. They help create value for the young worker, which in turn goes a long way in helping to convince them to stay at their job in this state. Yet there is still one thing that all businesses must do if they are serious in recruiting and retain young professionals in Iowa...

Brain Drain Solutions Part 1: What Business Needs To Do For YPs

In Iowa, we are in trouble. We know the statistics, we know the consequences, but we haven't talked enough about the solutions. If business is serious about finding & keeping quality young professionals it Braindrain must do the following:

1. Cut the Crap. The excuses are immense and it's a display of power, but often when I hear some professionals refer to young professionals they do so in a quite condescending tones that belittle their experiences and perspectives. The rationale is often that "we were all 'that age' and therefore naive once." However, one thing that is overlooked is their experiences are different then yours, not better, not more important - just different. Imagine growing up in elementary school with the Oklahoma City bombing, then going into junior high with the Columbine shooting, then high school with 9-11, then college with the Virginia Tech massacre. Each generation has their own unique experiences that shape their identity are therefore must not be dismissed.

2. Wonder Why. There is an opportunity to use the comparing and contrasting of your experiences and their experience to better understand how to appropriately position workers to maximize their potential. In the areas where there are differences, we need to know why. If you don't know, the only way to know is to ask. According to the 2008 Ranstad World at Work Survey, the areas that have the most varying perspectives between generations are also the ones that tend to be the most needed and require the most consensus: leadership, respect, work ethic, purpose. Do we spend time discussing the reasoning behind these points? Do we spend time discussing seeking to understand how these young employees came to their own conclusions? What we may find out is some may have no clue why themselves, which creates an opportunity to have them investigate their own reasoning, which may lead to a clearer focus on work task.

3. Rely on Relationship. Understanding "why" allows the working world to do the integral part of building open meaningful relationships with young professionals. As much as we don't want to admit it, the working world has changed. The American dream to many young professionals is connected with balance rather than success, collaboration is more important that management to this group. Young professionals see the working world more like a circle rather than a line. With many in this new generation being guided by helicopter parents that hover over their now-adult kids every decision, it is important that businesses see the value in providing meaningful opportunities for this generation to learn from the wisdom workers in the workforce looking to renegotiate their own working relationship over the course of a generation. Mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships, endear both the new worker and the old to an opportunity of building a true relationship that respects the other, allows for questioning and builds potentially strong bonds.

Young professionals are not off the hook, they also have a responsibility that they must take on. We'll cover that in my next post.

A New Baby Boom?

According to the National Center of Health Statistics, more than 4.3 million babies were born in the United States in 2007, beating the record set in 1957 at theBlog height of what is (was) known as the baby boom. The baby boom period began in 1946, as soldiers returned home from World War II, began to have kids, make more money, move to the suburbs and have more kids. This boom has not escaped Iowa either as births in Iowa have set new records the last couple of years.

The cause could be attributed to pastoral guidance to be fruitful and multiply,probably not, however, this second wave of a baby boom is causing a few raised eyebrows as 40 percent of these new babies are born to unwed mothers. In addition, after falling for a number of years, teenage pregnancy is up for the second straight year.

Considering that generational behavior is simply a reaction to the circumstances and situations presented to that particular generation, the question that immediately comes up is how will the family dynamic play on this generation and on the generation having these babies?

The nuclear family structure had an impact on the original baby boom generation as well as on its offspring, Generation X. Many speculate that the rebellion of the '60s and '70s was geared at the structure set up from their parents' circumstances. The Millennial generation tends to be a more optimistic, social and activist generation. Will their kids rebel against that? Will this generation relate more to the silent & X generations?

To be fair, while a record has been broken, its still too earlier to tell if this will last for a sustainable period that will indeed constitute a true baby boom. However, it is widely speculated that the Millennial generation will surpass in number the 70 million Baby Boomers that exist today and the yet to be named Generation Z will probably meet that goal as well. Not knowing what future events will assist in shaping the generation being born today, it's hard to predict their impact on the workplace, but one thing that appears to be certain is that this issue of multigenerational conflict will continue for some time.

War on Social Media

A friend of mine at one of Iowa's largest employers commented that he spent a half hour with hisBlog information technology people trying to explain how Twitter can be a business tool, so that they would unblock it.

Beyond blocking most social networking sites (including YouTube) some schools are lobbying for legislation to ban cell phones.The city of Waukee recently passed a resolution to "take any action necessary to prohibit the use of its name in social networking platforms" even against a Facebook fan page that asks "why is Waukee a great place to live?" Record & film companies are reluctantly accepting YouTube and filesharing programs only after years of injuctions and litigation.

The stories above are the battlefields in a war against social media, an invasion of digital foreigners against digital natives. Just like in many wars, the natives are seen as unsophisticated and must be taught how to conform to the more powerful invader or risk the consequences. However, just like the Romans and Christians, the Islamists and Arabs, or the Europeans and New World tribes, the natives' culture eventually penetrates and influences the invader's culture.

This war in social media is as much ineffective as the War on drugs, poverty or terrorism, except this war lacks the nobility of cause the others have. Rather than embrace the technology, resources are wasted on this attack, only for it to be eventually embraced. It is attacked because it's not part of the norm or it challenges the known and comfortable, it accelerates the natural order of evolution. So at the expense of  someone else's comfort, the medium and tools that a younger generation uses are stifled. Lame attempts to create alternatives are instead established and time passes by.

There was a time when television was the target, VCRs were taboo, and calculators were another item in the cross hairs. Look at the schools that today still use overhead projectors and PA systems; businesses that still use faxes and blast memos through couriers; cities that cycling through PowerPoint slides on their cable access stations and believe people still read their community tabloid. How much better would things be if these schools used cell phones to teach their students, businesses used Twitter to be more efficient and cities used Facebook to build and enhance community with their citizenry.

Many of these same institutions will say they do indeed embrace these things, but...insert excuse here. These institutions error toward the side of caution rather than intrigue and are quick to stop them before they seek to learn their full positive effects.

This war will continue until digital natives are given an opportunity to have equal level dialogue with the foreigners in places where decisions are made. While many of the natives are young professionals and many of the digital foreigners are of older generations there are peers in each demographic that can help negotiate the peace process.

Brain Drain is a symptom, not the problem

Since the economic crisis hit, you don't hear many people bring up the issue of Iowa's Brain Drain anymore. We falsely believe since there will probably be a lull in the expected generational workforce transfer that the brain drain issue has gone away. Wrong!  Actually, this economic crisis probably only makes it worse.

The truth is, Iowa’s workforce is peaking in size. According to both federal- and state-level data, in 10 yearsBraindrain Iowa’s workforce will lose about 60,000 people every five years. That would roughly be the equivalent of losing a Principal, Allied or Rockwell Collins every year.  Look no further than the 2010 census, where Iowa is scheduled to lose yet again another congressional seat, as to why this should concern us all.

Funny thing is Iowa tops the Midwest in attracting students for college. Our universities and small liberal arts colleges are well respected and highly coveted, but once students graduate, there's a great stampede for the exits. Iowa is a “net exporter” of its young professional workforce, losing about 4 percent of its young professionals since the beginning of this decade, ranking our loss of educated people in the nation the forth worst.

Another way of looking at it: Iowa is losing about 10 percent of its economy. This outflow of educated people leads to slower economic growth, productivity and innovation and increases in the poverty rate.

Brain Drain is not the problem. It's a symptom of the lack of jobs for people with advanced degrees. Simply put, either we stop sending kids to college or we must provide more college required jobs.

Last year, the Generation Iowa Commission surveyed 1000 YP Iowans about their job preference priorities. There highest priority: a high paying job in their field of study.

Other lower ranked priorities were demographic-specific amenities and attractions, options for career advancement, mentoring opportunities, cost of living and student debt repayment.

Why do wage and field of study rank so high? Let's look at what an Iowa workforce looks like to a college graduate:

62 percent of Iowa’s high school graduates go to college
33 percent of Young Professional Iowans will get a bachelor’s degree
24 percent of workforce aged Iowans already have a bachelor’s degree
12.2 percent of available jobs require a bachelor's degree or higher

Even after cost of living had been adjusted, Iowa still ranks second-to-last in the Midwest in the key wage metric. Iowa has relatively fewer advanced degree career opportunities, without concentrated industry clustering and new economy capital-efficient industries.

We need young, educated Iowans to secure our future. Young Professionals want to stay, but can’t find an appropriate job. We need to close Iowa’s wage and salary gap, not through state-mandated laws, but through job creation programs, expanding Iowa’s career pathways and connecting wages with age-appropriate amenities. This will put Iowa on a path to solve its Brain Drain issue.

How Should Millennials React to the Stimulus?

In case you've been living under a rock somewhere. The country is fighting off a financial catastrophe and when asking so called experts how we got into this mess, you're bound to hear a plethora of reasons. When asked how to solve it, you're bound to get a number of responses there, too. However, the one unifying statement is that doing anything is better than doing nothing. So that leads us to our powers that be; they have determined our best course of action is a huge infrastructure spending bill that will in theory "stimulate" the economy. When we say huge we are talking nearly a trillion dollars. Let me say that again (insert pinky to corner of mouth) - $1,000,000,000,000. FYI, our current national debt is nearly 11 trillion dollars.

What should Millennials think about all of this? Is it worth it?  Is it wasteful spending or is it a huge investment in our future?  I would argue it depends on what we get in return. Some will argue that Millennials will stand to benefit directly from the stimulus. Besides an improved national infrastructure, we are also looking at increased job training, loan guarantees for small businesses, funding for college, funding for service within the military and service outside of it, as well as low income assistance. Others, like (former presidential candidate and silent generation figure) John McCain, call this stimulus package "generational theft" others will also cite that it only creates a horrific financial burden on future generations with the added negative of growing government.

A compelling case can be made either way. It would seem we are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one.There are a number of amazing things scheduled to happen during the lifetime of Gen Y and Gen Z and its not clear if this stimulus will help or hurt these accomplishments. Millennials, so far, seem to have a lot more faith and expectation from the government than the previous generations and, given their experiences, it's understandable why. Let's hope that for once the government lives up to these expectations for much is at stake.

So what is it? Is this thing good or bad for Millennials? I've gotten pretty good feedback on this topic on Twitter and Facebook, it would be interesting to see if there is a consensus here or if there are diverging opinions

Streaming Videos @ Work: Is it a Generational Issue?

Last Wednesday I had a conversation with a number of friends over the previous day'sMedia
Inauguration festivities. The conversation focused on the historic nature of it, akin to one of those "where were you when..." moments. A few of my friends were livid because they were not allowed to watch it on their computers at work.

I posted on my Twitter & Facebook status, a question on the fairness of this policy and the response comments starting flowing. It was interesting to see the range of comments that I received especially considering the political range of friends I have spanning from long time conservative financial brokers to union organizers.  Though the conversation turned into an employer expectation/productivity vs. employee rights/flexibility, and then later a conservative vs. liberal ideology, I could not help but wonder if it was more of a generational issue?

Then, as if someone was thinking the same thing, I came across this article related to IT issues in the workplace. Essentially many Millennials are ignoring IT usage policies and CIOs and other managers are having to lay the smack down. In one report 90 percent of Gen Y workers have suffered consequences for bypassing the IT policies. (and this was in Canada!)

Another close friend of mind had secretly learned that her company had the technology and capability to allow people to work from home, but the management team decided against it, opining "it is counterproductive in building relationships with co-workers." I'm not sure I agree. (This place has also cut back on the number of interoffice social & charitable events they do as well.)

I had a followup conversation with a Millennial IT security guy (who has a side Web development business) at large company in town (who recently laid off a bunch of folks) to discuss this issue further. His take: "It is just too cost prohibitive for everyone to use the technology that's available", and his company was "concerned about the lost of proprietary info." I get that, but it also left me with a number of questions:

1. What good is having the technology if it can't be used?

2. If the technology can't be used, should an alternative be provided?

3. Even without the growth of social media, hasn't proprietary info been at risk?

4. Are Millennials being consulted when these decisions are being discuss. Should they?

Shared Control Rather than Generational Fighting

The other day an older friend of mine were discussing the perception given off by different generations and my friend commented about Millennials saying "What these young folks don't understand is although there are communication difference with the generations, the power structure lies with the older generation, so (millennials) just need to listen and conform" Really? Interesting thesis, but aren't these the same generations that coined the phrased "never trust anyone over 40" and the other called Gen X precisely because they could not be defined?

However, beyond this tilted view of collaboration many millennials, at the very least don't care about the "power structure" and are completely content with picking up and moving on if they feel disrespected or ill-equipped. Some are willing to take jobs that appear to lack advancement but provide flexibility even if it means working side by side with their generational peers at the end of the age spectrum. The worker transfer from baby boomers to Millennials is still on its way, just delayed, and the current recession has actually forced all generations to learn and adapt like they have never before. Boomers have had to stay in the workforce longer than they were anticipating, Xers have had to adapt to working more collaboratively. What about Millennials?

Millennials have had to learn how to work harder even through their frustrations, currently many of them can not afford to job hop as before, and while working at Starbucks or Footlocker might be tempting to some of them, even those opportunities are becoming scarce. Overall Millennials can't run, Xers can't hide, and Boomers can't ride.

Through this economic crisis, Millennials also have an opportunity to showcase their collaborative skills, Xer's there ability to be creative, and Boomers their ability to endure, They all benefit by sharing control rather than fighting for it.

Negativity and Silver Linings for Young Prossionals this Week

This week, a famous local cartoonist was laid off by his principal employer. His concern came from how he was dismissed, but particularly, in a post employment interview with a local television station,  he seemed concerned over the message his dismissal sends to young journalists.

He's right. Blog

This new generation shows no loyalty to the job, because they don't feel it's reciprocal.

So it should come as no surprise that the state's Generation Iowa commission highlights salary related issues as the top concern of this age demographic, according to primary data at the state and national level.  After having mixed legislative success last year, the commission has streamlined their recommendations for this session, focusing on  job creation opportunities and getting this generation a seat at the table on other state commissions. As an active member of the commission, I have some relevant insight in how it made its findings and will tackle that issue in more depth next month.

Some are now laying claim that young professionals are responsible and most impacted by this economic mess. On the other end, the world of politics seems to be outpacing the business community in embracing the younger demographic in a positive and engaging way. President-elect Barack Obama still is getting people excited about the youth vote, the Iowa Legislature continues to add young professionals to its membership and Sen. Charles Grassley has finally admitted to what I have known for months.

He's on Facebook and Tweets on Twitter.

As a matter of fact all of our congressional delegation does - and many of our state legislators also - but not nearly enough.

So while it appears many decision makers still don't get it, there at least appears to be a silver lining in the sky.

Thankful for what we have

A day set aside to give thanks. To take account for what we have, and the blessings180px-TraditionalThanksgiving
that are birthed from those harvests. Simply, we have made a sacred or holy day to reflect on our stock, and while on most days we race to add to our stock, on this day we pause and realize that at least we have, regardless if it's a lot  or if it's a little.

As young professionals are perpetually trying to navigate the fastest way to achieve their goals, the lesson of thanksgiving is a poignant reminder of what is truly important. Generation "We" is more apt to live this principle even if they don't truly understand.

Now, there is no question that this is an economist's holiday, we are celebrating our supply by our demand, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, as a matter of fact, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to its current slot to help give merchants a longer period to sell good before Christmas. Hoping the increase in spending would help bring the country out of the Depression.  Soon after, JC Penny's started their "day after Thanksgiving" sale (just kidding)

The focus shouldn't be on the day after, even though Millennials do like to shop. It should be on the reason why we can opt to do that in the first place. Often, this holiday is overlooked by some just and opportunity to have big dinner, watch football, and take advantage of some great sales. However, Thanksgiving is more than just food, football, and Friday shopping. As cheesy as this might read, allow me to use one more football analogy. In the football game of life and work, Thanksgiving is a timeout; to rest and gather our thoughts with our team, before we continue on.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Learn from Millennial's Behavior in the 08' Election

A historic election that will be analyzed in many areas, but specifically when all is said and Obama_change done this election could be seen as the election of the next generation.  Regardless of one's desired outcome for the Presidential race, there are many lessons to be learned from this election, particularly, the value of millennials.

In politics, young voters have conventionally been derided as a non-factor. In the past, the disengagement of Generation X helped to solidify this sentiment. However, the emergence of the millennials has begun to challenge this belief, and only future elections will tell if their impact on the 2008 election was an anomaly or truly a trend.

The emerging trend in play is not necessarily how many of them are voting, but rather for whom are they voting. While the percentage of young voters increased by only 1 percent - from 17 percent to 18 percent - exit polls show that young voters supported Obama over McCain by a margin of 2 to 1. That number translates to about six points; the same difference in the winning margin for Obama. It is conceivable that if those under 30 voted the same way they did in 2004, it would have been 2000 all over again with Obama barely winning the popular vote and McCain, winning Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana.

Considering, in 2000, how popular McCain once was with the youth vote, it's at the least telling that more wasn't done to reach out to millennials, considering it's a safe bet to assume Obama had a leg up with this demographic based on image and relatability alone. In addition, the Obama campaign used a variety of tools to solidify and broaden its appeal to YPs; from its reliance on social networking sites and text messaging to its use of Twitter, its tailor-made campaign theme ("Yes We Can", is the epitome of Gen Y) and even ads in video games. In hindsight, the McCain campaign might have wanted to compete more in this area, but didn't have the resources to do so. However, Republicans would be wise to take note of this impact in future elections.

Businesses should also analyze this further, as this next generation is a very socially conscience generation willing to be active, if inspired. Obama recognized this and used tools to broaden his appeal to them and in return received their loyalty.

Can businesses replicate this model?

Are YP's Caught in the Middle?

I recently had the opportunity to finish reading a book that gives a scathing analysis of36589261 the economic reality being faced in the Midwest. The book, "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism by Richard Longworth," was written before the massive government bailout recently passed by Congress, but still deals with our economic perils in stark terms.

deals with the Midwest's struggle to stay competitive against overseas markets, counter to the expectation that capitalism needs to seek out foreign opportunity. Author Richard Longworth paints a picture that emotionally appeals to those in the Midwest as if the region was hit with some economic parasite that has left an empty landscape full of rural ghettos. Anyone living in Iowa can relate to this conversation over the apparent decay of Iowa's rural communities and the division between rural and urban.

Longworth correctly pinpoints the divisive battle that happens between rural and urban communities, not just within the confines of the state, but even in the larger confines of Midwest state vs. Midwest state. Caught insinuates that Midwesterners' characteristics and ideology are no match for globalism, which the book also attacks.

Midwesterners are described as unskilled, risk averse, change resistant, sluggish and indifferent. An Iowan himself, living and working in Chicago, Longworth appears to come off hypocritically harsh toward Midwesterners. Yet, at the same time, who else but someone from the region could give paint such an emotional picture and get away with it. No doubt Longworth is attempting to say there are no easy answers. However, he does suggest solutions to the crisis, which, on first read, appear to be immigration as the immediate fix, while a reemergence of city centers and a redirection toward research and biosciences are the longer term fixes.

After reading Caught, I was left to ponder two questions: Has the ball already been put in motion to return the Midwest to its heyday? And is the return of YPs to the Midwest a sign of progress?

There are definite signs in the Midwest of more regional collaboration, as well as an increased focus on research and biotechnology. It would appear that some, particularly in Iowa, are trying to lead the way in this renaissance.

Only time will tell.

In Bad or Good Economic Times, the Answer is Networking

In tough economic times, young professionals have to rely more than ever on what they can bring to the table. Let's consider that there has been frequent talk about the pending boomer transfer and its collision with the brain drain. Young_business_people The belief has been that these two phenomenas will lead to a bear market of job availability. However, for many YPs and others watching or experiencing this economic downturn it doesn't appear as if that is true.

Reality is the brain drain is already here and has been here for quite sometime. Statistically, post college age professionals have been leaving the Midwest for years for more southern or coastal megaregions, at a ratio of six to one.

As for the boomer transfer, tough economic times might delay the transfer, but it will happen. The interesting thing about a market cycle is its cyclical effect and the ability to predict certain realities, even amongst the unknown. So the real question for Young Professionals is "How do I rise above the fray?" How do I set myself apart?" "How do I make myself professionally desirable?" The answer to those questions don't rely in inflated resumes or a checkoff list, but rather something quite simple- Networking.

When I mention networking,  I don't mean your standard predictable business card meet and greet, but more like an serial, authentic drive to build relationships. Building relationships goes beyond just getting to know someone, but establishing what at their core makes them tick, then  giving them something that is of value.  This type of Networking is similar to that Midamerican Energy slogan "obsessively, relentlessly, at your service.

Previous generations relied more heavily on the resumes and took a more analytical static approach, even though what was binding these positions still ended up being the impact of the relationships, that won't work as well anymore.The emerging workforce generation places more emphasis on the social realm, but A.) how deep our those relationships B.) how broad our those relationships, to test this out compare the number of friends on a Facebook or Linkedin page versus the varying degrees of familiarity  those said friends.

An obsessive networker bent on building long term professional relationships,will constantly be tilling and cultivating her network, in order to rise above the crowd. In order for the young professional to best position himself, professional relationship building has to be a priority, otherwise in bad economic times your left out in the cold, and during good economic times your left for something more hot.

Do Young Professionals Understand the Economy, Do They Even Care?

Wall_street By many accounts we are currently dealing with an unprecedented economic situation. Do Young Professionals even care or have a clue about the economy? Do they even care?

The current young professionals demographic consist of two generations; the last half of the Generation X and the first of the Millennials, typically Xers tend to be more critical while Millennials are more optimistic, this manifest as YP's appearing either pessimistic or clueless. 

Unlike other disastrous situations affecting our country Young professionals understand how terrorism affects personal freedom at places like airports and shopping malls, etc. They understand how natural disasters like floods and hurricane affect us. They even understand the governments responsibility in protecting us in those situations. However, YPs struggle to understand the governments role in a free market economy.

When the government feels it needs to step in
, whether or not that is the best course of action or not, it sends a clear message to our young professionals that they need not care, because it is the governments responsibility, or that they should be pessimistic because the government wasn't doing what YP's believe was the governments job in the first place.

But YPs should care, Why because they are paying for it. The generation that is growing into the largest economic force in history with 80 million people, might be restricted in their economic freedoms by the economic actions they were not responsible for creating, that would make anyone pessimistic.

Mentoring: the "Boomer Solution" Bridge to the Workplace "Wisdom Gorge"

It's no secret that Millennials are coming of age and, in less than a decade, will be the dominant demographic in the workplace. At approximately the same time, Boomers are beginning to retire and most will begin to collect Social Security and other sources of retirement income. The resulting "wisdom gorge" (rather than "brain drain") has given employers some cause for concern, particularly with what appears to be a penchant for workplace disloyalty among Millennials.

While I am one of the first to defend Millennials in their ability to multi task, set goals, and  grasp technology, those skill sets do not begin to make up for the years of relationships, trials and errors, and practices, that have been gained from over thirty years in the workforce and it would appear both generations agree with me.

Many best practice guides, including the one I mentioned last month by the Generation Iowa Commission, suggest a bridge over this wisdom gorge is hiring Boomers, on a part-time basis, as mentors to Millennials while also assigning them work that is meaningful yet flexible. 

This mentoring relationship should be natural as both Boomers and Millennials like to emphasize meaning in the workplace. There is no question that the generation that rebelled against authority in the 60's and 70's and pioneered financial success in the 80's and 90's feels they have answers to a cavalcade of problems.There is also no question that a generation that is too busy to use complete words and sentences, or
research news, or wear a tie, find pertinent value in relationships and collaboration, after all, aren't many boomers the parents of the Millennials anyway?

Keeping, hiring, or rehiring these Boomers can also provide a solution to keep human capital in places where many Young Professionals are fluid.  And the "boomer solution" provides an opportunity to keep experts in soft skills utility that cannot only be shared, but also implemented in real time.

It's a win/win for all involved. Boomers can continue to contribute and influence, while enjoying the flexibility earned by their time. Millennials can still specialize and collaborate, while acquiring new skills and relationships, and employers can feel confident that their workforce needs are not only being met, but are also set for the future.

Help with New Research for Recruiting and Retaining Iowa's Young Professionals

Generation_logo Last year, the governor and the Legislature approved and funded the Generation Iowa Commission in an effort to  tackle the issue of post college-age individuals leaving the state. The commission was charged with studying why they were leaving, the impact on the state of Iowa and what could be done to reverse that trend. The commission concluded the top five factors young professionals use in determining where they will work:

1. High paying job and low cost of living
2. A place compatible with their skill set and growth of those skills
3. Quality of life, vitality, uniqueness and diversity of community
4. Geography and ease of travel
5. Career advancement and leadership

Research had indicated that the first two factors far outweighed the other factors, which are more properly considered “tiebreakers" and that emphasis on the bottom three factors should always be in conjunction with the first two.

Based on those factors, and general research on generational behavior, the commission recommended that businesses should engage in the following strategies to assist in recruiting and retaining young professionals:

  1. Be community focused and engaging
  2. Emphasize both an internship program and a mentoring program
  3. Utilize the relationships of employees that are alumnus to key educational institutions that provide the types of employees the company needs
  4. Continue to find ways to focus on total compensation packages that add additional value to salaries, particularly for critical needs areas, as well as offer clear and flexible career pathways

The commission is now beginning its second year and is actively collecting data to be used to develop an updated report. The report will include new findings and recommendations of the commission regarding the status of efforts to attract and retain the young adult population in the state, career opportunities and educational needs of young adults, and the movement of the young adult population between rural areas and urban areas and between Iowa and other states. They are encouraging young post college-age Iowans to complete the survey here.

This primary research should serve well to compare to their research from last year. It will be interesting to see if the data matches well with past research or national data and it should be interesting to see if it will change the or magnify the recommendations from the commission. A report is expected at the end of the year.

Is casual dress dying?

It's summer, so the last thing people are thinking about is wearing a three piece suit and tie,Young_prof_3 but one of the things I've been lately amazed at is the attire of young professionals. It is not uncommon for emerging young professionals to dress in colorful shirts and ties, or sports coats with no tie, For the young professional the suit and tie is dead. This has to be driving their boomer managers crazy, they grew up in a world where their parents expected work attire to essentially be dark suit, white shirt, unobtrusive tie.

If you wanted to rebel against that, you could ,but don't expect to work in the professional world. The trend softened up slightly in the 80's and 90's but not by much. Young professionals have always rebelled in dress style relative to their older generations, but what makes this newest "rebellion" interesting is that it has crept into the hours of 9 to 5.  The idea is that casual dress makes happier employees and happier employees are more productive.

It's interesting to note that this is becoming more widely accepted, a new workforce study by the executive search firm FPC indicated that 60% of Managers, Directors, VPs and above think that going back to corporate dress would be taking a step backward, while only 40% thought casual dress was hurting productivity. On the flip side, 51% of entry and mid-level employees feel it would be taking a step backward, while 49% think it hurts productivity. Note that these younger professionals appear to be stricter more conflicted then their older managers.

Is this evidence that some of these best practices for recruiting millennial is working? Next time you have a business lunch or walking around business sector, take a look at the dress style of the young folks around you.

Are we really the dumbest generation?

Dumb There is a new book referring to this newest American generation as the dumbest generation. The book is a scathing portrayal of millennials, their lack of education and their reliance on technology to fill in those educational gaps. The critical assumption is that the end result will be a workforce that is full of dumb, lazy workers.

Okay, let's assume that most of these "dumb generation" arguments are true. In addition, consider there are over 70 million millennials, passing the juggernaut generation of boomers by 5 million. This young generation is also consuming an astonishing $172 billion in goods and services every year.

For all intent and purposes, it would seem as if George Romero's world of zombies is finally coming to fruition, a limitless number of brainless humans walking around consuming all they can and turning the few intelligent left into one of their ilk.

So is this indeed the "Dawn of the Dead" generation of Zombies? I would beg to differ.

How dumb can this generation really be?

This is the same generation that finally got their parent's VCRs to stop flashing 12:00 every second (When VCRs were still relevant). This new generation actually believes fully in the green revolution enough to actually do something about it (way before Al Gore jumped on the bandwagon). This is the generation that keeps producing applications that make our lives easier to manage. Ask Google, Ebay, Microsoft, AOL, and other big corporations if the inventors of YouTube, PayPal, WebMD, Napster, or Facebook are dumb; better yet, ask their accountants.

Despite their shortcomings, this newest generation to enter the workforce has actually proven to be much more goal oriented, efficient, positive, and collaborative than previous generations. Aren't those the qualities employers always talk about wanting to have from their employees?

While we should be concerned about the lack of certain soft skills of the millennial generation, let's shy away from the Chicken Little doomsday generalizations and condescending tones, and embrace all aspects of our new colleagues in the working world.

Isaiah McGee

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