Anybody else remember this clip from Poltergeist (1982)? As poltergeists shake the room, disrupting the sleeping characters, the little blonde girl turns to the camera and says, “They’re heeere!” The sentiment seems to mirror recent news from the Pew Research Center about millennials in the workforce: This week, a new analysis of labor force estimates concluded that millennials have officially surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. In other words, the millennials are shaking things up and certainly here.
According to recent population surveys, one in three American workers today are millennials (adults ages 18 to 34). How did this happen so quickly? Millennials have a disproportionately large share of immigrants, according to the research center, and immigrants coming to the U.S. are disproportionately in their young working years: “Relatively speaking, few immigrants come to the U.S. during childhood or older adulthood. In the past five years, over half of newly arrived immigrant workers have been millennials,” says the center. Additionally, millennials as a population (not just the workforce) are already projected to surpass Baby Boomers this year as the nation’s largest living generation.
Millennials are an interesting population to look at, and you’ll find conflicting reports all over the Internet about what they are supposed to be (confident, me-centered, lazy), how they are the Peter Pan generation (known for delaying the transition into adulthood longer than they should), and how they’re more civic-minded than previous generations. You can read all the stereotypes on Wikipedia, because there are plenty of them. What’s important to remember is that stereotypes are stereotypes: Not all millennials think, or work, exactly the same.
However, it is hard to argue with the fact that a generation raised on digital technology will shape the economy in different ways. Millennials are digital natives, born and raised with their fingers on a computer keyboard. A 2014 White House report says that “since personal computers were introduced to schools in the late 1970s, technology companies have innovated at startling speed…because much of this period of innovation coincided with millennials’ childhoods, it has shaped the ways that millennials interact with technology and seems to have affected their expectations for creativity and innovation in their own work lives.” The White House notes that many millennials came of age during the economic recession, meaning that their view of a career is shaped by trying to find a job when there wasn’t one.
The unique attributes that millennials are often deemed to have can make them uniquely valuable for many manufacturers. Interestingly enough, it seems as if millennials have been lauded for helping manufacturers adapt to change: Although 43% of manufacturers surveyed believe this generation lacks the work ethic to succeed, the pure percentage of millennials in the workforce means that they’re the largest labor pool to fill the skills gap, and have actually helped to bring outdated manufacturers into the technological era.
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