BELLEVUE — 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.
“We have started hiring a few part-time people who are in their 20s who are taking on a lot of responsibility,” said Marc Weisenberger, Bellevue Rec Center director. “Their generation is being employed more as time goes on.”
Some companies and industries work to keep a balanced workforce — a challenge, as baby boomers near retirement.
“We try to keep our staff as balanced as possible by hiring younger people to start out on a part-time basis,” Weisenberger said. “The city of Bellevue is predominately made up of older generations but a turn around could be coming.”
Baby boomers and those from Generation Y are motivated in different ways — a thought employers keep in mind when hiring someone new, Weisenberger said.
Here’s how Sarah Sladek, the chief executive officer of XYZ University, 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.
Powerful, but pampered
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.
Yet, while this group is creative, optimistic and achievement-oriented, woe to the employer who forgets about their need to be praised.
“All companies are going to have to think about how to develop a good work ethic in a young worker and praise can help with that,” said Dan Phillip, founder of the Transformation Network, a group that recruits, trains and helps place workers of all ages in the manufacturing field. “A good work ethic is going to be vital for younger generations as they develop, but that’s a problem in America.”
Phillip said the younger generation’s have not grown through the same system that Baby Boomers did.
For instance, Generation Y college students take out loans and some receive financial help from their parents to pay for college, he said. Phillip said that has created a lazy approach to debts because some students don’t have to pay off school bills. Some will even take out loans to live off of, he said.
“I think loans should be used on an as-needed basis,” Phillip said. “There should be a decrease in the amount of student loans available and that would encourage students work toward paying for their college education.”
Still, those in Generation Y say they work hard for their employer, but 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.
“Success is a ladder, but it can’t be climbed with your hands in your pockets,” Phillip said of the younger generations employment habits. “That goes back into developing a work ethic, because work should take time to develop and it should be a commitment.”
Haves and have nots
For many of the 80 million members of Generation Y, though, it has been a rough entry into the work force.
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 possess.
The “have nots” — some without a college degree — will continue to struggle to find jobs throughout this decade.
But Phillip said a college degree won’t always guarantee that a graduate would get the job they want in the changing workforce.
“We hear about manufacturers that say they need to turn down large orders because they don’t have the people to work it,” Phillip said.
For instance, a manufacturer could receive a large order of 500 items but may only have the workforce to deliver 200 items on the client’s desired time schedule.
Phillip said there is a need for employers to reinvent themselves in order to tap into Generation Y’s large number of workers to improve the industry.
“Manufacturers should be able to provide a career path for the young people,” he said. “Employers should have websites that kids and younger generations can access because the younger generations are more web and tech savvy and they’re ready to change as technology improves”
Changing of the guard
This shift in work force demographics is coming at a time when 75 percent of employed Americans are looking for jobs, Sladek’s research showed.
While companies currently hold the upper hand when it comes to hiring, Sladek predicts that soon will change. She notes that employers are entering a period that will see them in a heated battle for talent. If a company is to be a destination site for talented workers, she said it cannot ignore the needs, desires and attitudes of Generation Y.
“People in generation Y seem to be more spontaneous than the baby boomers” Weisenberger said. “Baby boomers are trying to adjust to new technology but the younger generations are ready to take on those new options and challenges.”
Weisenberger said he is optimistic for what those from Generation Y have to offer.
“Down the road, a lot of the Generation Y folks we hired could be up for some leadership positions,” he said.
Patrick Pfanner can be reached at 419-483-4190 ext. 1967. ‘Like’ us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @BellevueGazette.