An Open Letter to Business Leaders about Millennials

Dear Business Leaders,

No doubt you’ve heard our new mantra: “Ensure kids are college and career ready.” We’ve heard your pleas that our kids need 21st century skills to contribute to the changing global economy. As educators, we recognize that the primary purpose of education is to produce economically viable products – employable citizens – to advance society, strengthen our depth of knowledge, and perpetuate prevailing values.

We want you to know that is a significant task and one that we don’t take lightly. We’ve been doing our homework and saw the new employer survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in which 93% of you said that a candidate’s ability to think critically, communicate creative ideas, and solve complex problems is more important than the actual degree he or she receives.And 95% said you’d prioritize those college grads that are capable of contributing to organizational innovation. We got the memo of the “top ten list” of things that college grads need to participate in your world.

We heard you, and we’ve been working hard to send them to you with creativity, innovation, problem-solving skills, a sense of teamwork, and an understanding of science and technology in real-world applications.

But, we need to talk.

While the labor market seems to be recovering as indicated by an increase in jobs and a 6.3% unemployment rate this summer, millennial employment rates have remained virtually flat for the past 6 years. The jobless rate for the new workforce — loosely defined as those 18 to 30 years old — remains well above that of other age groups. Many of those who do find work are biding their time with minimum wage jobs that don’t require a college degree.

The largest generation in history is struggling to enter your world. Okay, they have their quirks, but let’s not be so quick to overgeneralize them.

By 2020, one out of every three adults in our country will carry the Gen Y label. They are our first digital natives. They traded in their pacifiers for the digital device du jour, and are largely responsible for the language and culture of our current social networks. We realize that they are often criticized as being lazy and entitled. They have high unemployment rates, and are also the deepest in debt. And yet, they still expect to have enough money to live the life they want. They are political and religious independents, grew up in the shadow of 9/11, and watched their parents struggle through the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that they are also defined by words like altruistic, optimistic, socially responsible, adaptive, innovative and disruptive.They’re changing the world around us. They are changing the way brands market products and the way we consume those products.

They understand the purchasing power they have, and their altruistic attitude is replacing market share with philanthropic companies involved in social causes. Millennials support companies that promote “good works” over profit and align with their own core values and social causes.

The best and brightest new candidates want to work for places they believe help shape the world. According to a new survey by the National Society of High School Scholars, they cite health care organizations like St. Jude, governmental agencies such as the FBI and CIA, and technology companies such as Microsoft and Apple as their top picks.

You’ve charged us with delivering young people with leadership skills. We’ve accepted that challenge, and millennials are proving that they want to be leaders – but they want to do it their way. They aren’t going to start in the basement and wait three to five years to get to the first floor. They aren’t called the “Me Generation” for nothing. You’re going to have to create more talent mobility and opportunities for them to demonstrate their creativity and innovation or you’ll lose them.

They have a strong work ethic, but they include work-life balance in that measure. Flexible work environments and hours motivate them, and they aren’t interested in assuming the kinds of hierarchical stress they see in your senior leaders. They aren’t a particularly loyal bunch; but they are focused and driven to achieve their own goals. They don’t want to run your company, they want to run their own, and they are fearless enough to try.

Millennials have the optimism and the can-do attitude to take on the world, and they are already changing it. Your ability to attract, train, and retain the graduates we’re sending you will make or break your company in the coming years.

The irony is that millennials are literally changing the way the world does business before our very eyes, and they are struggling to get in your door. We’ve been working hard to align instruction with 21st century skills, STEM, and Common Core Standards to deliver kids who can contribute to the changing workplace. But they are struggling to enter a challenging labor market in a bad economy.

Every generation has an impact on society that creates social, cultural and economic effects on the world as well as the generations before and after them. This generation is no different. Their influence defines how they are perceived, and those perceptions determine where they fit in the world. The largest generation in our history will cost us in the future if they continue to be the largest unemployed generation.

We’ve accepted your challenge, and now we reciprocate with one of ours.Understand who these kids are, how they think and learn. And you might want to take a critical look at your company culture and consider adjusting your roles, responsibilities, and expectations of the new workforce if you expect them to contribute to your organization. If not, you’ll either compete with them or support them in the future.

And, hang on…. Generation Z is right around the corner.


Passionate Teachers of the World


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