Glued to their smart phones, planning their next vacation, and already bored with Twitter, today’s 20-somethings are the ones who will dominate the work force in as little as a decade.
By 2025, they’ll compete for the top-level jobs with the gale force of a group 85 million strong, almost double that of the generation Xers, who’ve been waiting patiently for their predecessors to retire.
It’s high time American employers start to pay attention to the sea change that’s about to happen, said Jack Smalley, director of HR Learning and Development for Express Employment Professionals’ international headquarters in Oklahoma City.
“Baby boomers, we’re going to have to start compromising because the work force in as little as 10 years will be dominated by your son and his generations,” Smalley told a small group of professionals Tuesday at the Greeley Country Club.
“We have a choice. We can cater to their desires, what they want in a job, or we can resist and hold back and not be an employer of choice. You don’t have to meet them all the way, but you have to start understanding what the work force looks for in picking an employer.”
Today’s workforce is made up of all four generations, all who carry different values, work ethics, and liabilities and assets on the job, Smalley explained. But today’s corporate structure, built more on the bureaucratic military top-down leadership style, may not be ready for tomorrow’s worker bees.
“For the first time in history, we’ve got four generations working side by side,” Smalley said. “We’ve already noticed it does create some problems in the work place because we no longer treat everyone the same in the work place,” Smaller said. “Today, you do have to treat people different, because different things motivate different people from different generations.”
» Traditionalists (4 percent of the workforce) are influenced most by World War II and the Great Depression.
» Baby Boomers (38 percent of the workforce), which are now the largest group of working Americans, tend to work harder and longer, equating money with time. Jobs came before family. They valued a military-style of management and were loyal to their companies.
» Generation Xers (32 percent of the workforce) and millennials (25 percent of today’s workforce) value more of a work-life balance and will trade money for time off. They want to be paid for their work product, not the time they put in. They tend to like change, and they don’t mind leaving a company — even if their job is going well — just to experience something new. They leave bad bosses, not bad jobs.
At 85 million strong, however, employers will need to pay attention to the up-and-coming millennials, which dwarf the GenXers.
“The greatest transformation ever in history of the U.S. workforce is beginning to take place,” Smalley said. “There are more baby boomers working today than any other generation. By 2025, they will be out of the workforce. They’ve already started. … By the time the baby boomers do leave, the millennials will have the experience to compete with the GenXers for the same jobs, so the GenXers are being squeezed from both ends.”
U.S. employers, led today by mostly baby boomers and GenXers will have to step outside their corporate and bureaucratic boxes to compete for this generation’s best. Some companies already are stepping up. SAS, as an example, has consistently won the title of best place to work in America by valuing people above all else. The company offers onsite daycare and gym and health care facilities, and physically locks workers out after 45 hours a week, while being considered as having just average wages, Smalley said.
Zappos, an online shoe retailer, also has figured it out, he said. The CEO works alongside everyone in a cubicle and wears blue jeans and tennis shoes to work. The company offers a six-week intensive training to new employees, after which each person is offered $3,000 to leave. The idea is to keep only the employees who want to be there. Smalley said 97 percent don’t take the money, and it’s considered one of the best places to work in America.
“The best way to hold onto millennials is to have a great boss,” Smalley said in an interview. “It doesn’t have to be a millennial as a boss. They can work for boomers, as long as there is a connection. It’s about having a great boss.”
Millennials, the most educated of any of the generations, differ greatly from their predecessors — by sheer culture and upbringing. Technology has rendered them incredible multi-taskers. They’re the most optimistic of the working class, and are increasingly politically active.
They don’t think of work in terms of time and don’t conform to the traditional 8-5 work day. But they also tend to need more structure and supervision, Smalley said.
Their high levels of education leave them somewhat useless in the hands-on fields that will need to be replaced, however, which will be another turning point in the country.
With the loss of the baby boomers, Smalley said, 75 percent of the U.S. workforce will need to be retrained. That will be a problem when the country continues to focus efforts toward sending kids to college.
“We need to start finding ways to focus on the non-college degree person, and say it’s OK to be a plumber. It’s OK to be an electrician and work the assembly line, instead of telling them if you don’t go to college, you fail.”
Smalley said the American workforce is heavily degree-focused, when nine out of 10 jobs in the country could be done by anyone if they were trained right.
“You find me an employee with a great attitude, and nine out of 10 of them, I’ll teach them to do anything,” Smalley said. “Most employers don’t value the associate’s degree and it’s fine in many cases. Companies will retain and outperform if they hire for attitude and train for skills.”