By some measures, millennials are now the largest generation in today’s workforce. And as baby boomers retire, this younger generation will dominate even more. For years, popular discourse on millennials was full of worry. Their early working lives were shaped by the recession, not always able to find jobs that matched their skill level, past experience or future goals. Instead of jumping immediately to the entry-level rung of a stable career ladder, these graduates had to take alternative paths.
Past economic research shows that historically, entering the labor market in weak economic times has resulted in poor career outcomes. And this was how people talked about the fate of millennials in today’s economy—stories of young people moving back in with their parents were paired with analysis on the lifetime earnings they’d be sacrificing by not progressing down a career path in their early working years.
But this kind of thinking is based on a type of labor market that may not exist anymore, namely, one where people stay in a single career track until retirement. While higher pay and more specific skill sets help retain workers in a single occupation, even the most highly skilled job seekers are searching outside of their occupational categories at surprisingly high rates. Out of 23 broad occupational categories, candidates in only five categories search within their own occupation more than 50% of the time.
In the new economy, the adjustments that millennials have already made will serve them well. The labor market is different now and people are likely to take on many different kinds of jobs over the course of a lifetime. The determination that millennials relied on to weather the recession makes them well suited to take on the current environment.
What does this mean for employers?
There are now 5.5 million job openings in the US but the hiring rate isn’t rising at the same rate. This means employers are struggling to find the people they need, and it also means that those they do hire are often working on staff-short teams. Millennials may prove to be the resourceful candidates employers rely on in times like this. Attracting and retaining them will require new ways of thinking about how to position job opportunities.
A recent Harris Poll study conducted on behalf of Indeed revealed 51% of people age 18 to 34 said meaningful work was the factor that would most attract them to a job. That’s compared with 40% of people age 35 to 44 and 43% of those age 45 to 54.* One component of raising hiring rates may rely on understanding what equates to meaningful work for the millennial set.
One challenge for employers will be attracting younger workers into the fields that boomers are leaving. There is already a shortage in healthcare, and this shortage is expected to worsen as the older generation retires. In technology fields as well, millennials aren’t showing strong enough interest to make up for current talent gaps. Identifying where and how millennials are searching for jobs will help employers identify the candidates in that age group who are interested in hard-to-fill positions. In addition to their preferences for specific locations and flexibility, we also know that millennials are searching via mobile more than other generations—73.4% search for jobs on their smartphones, an important figure for employers to bear in mind as they craft their recruitment campaigns.
A few years ago, the fear was that millennials would never find their footing in the labor market. Today, we know there’s time yet for millennials to have a strong economic future. By 2020, they will make up more than half the workforce and are already influencing the nature of work in the US and beyond.