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5 Things That Aren’t the Way They Seem for Millennials

Forthwith, some random thoughts prompted by Bentley’s PreparedU research … ruminations on gender and success, workplace skills, accomplishment, surveys themselves and helicopter parents — even as we begin to turn to “Millennial Minds,” which will move center stage next month.

Traits traditionally associated with gender may be becoming less relevant, and even less accurate.

The PreparedU study, to simplify, found that women had better skills but men had better traits for success. Even millennials — men and women — said so. Still, you have to wonder. We asked Bentley Global Studies Professor Rob DeLeo for his take on talents associated with gender that contribute to successful careers in public service and government (story coming soon) and he declined to answer, saying, in effect, that it was a false premise. 

That didn’t stop respondents to the PreparedU study from weighing in, but I think Professor DeLeo is on to something. When I look around at colleagues both senior and junior, I am increasingly hard-pressed to catalog them according to gender, skills and traits. I work with men and women of all ages who may or may not be aggressive, skilled negotiators, creative, driven, inspiring, task masters, insightful, great communicators, analytical, intuitive and so on. And honestly, it just doesn’t seem that there’s a clear gender divide among any of them. I’m told that here on the Bentley campus, you can still find evidence of gender differences such as men dominating classroom discussions or clustering in high-testosterone majors such Economics-Finance. Maybe. And Bentley faculty such as Pat Flynn, Susan Adams and Toni Wolfman can testify to gender bias in corporate boardrooms and beyond. Facts don’t lie and I get that. Still, down here in the bowels of middle management, it appears that attitudes about skills and traits just might be losing their gender bias, especially among millennials. At least I hope so.

Soft skills, hard skills and civic skills.

The data summary goes something like this: Hard skills (e.g. “practical” majors like accounting or marketing) get the first job and “soft skills” leverage long-term career advancement and success. But technology and pedagogy, among other things, increasingly blur the distinctions between what’s hard and what’s soft. Our accounting faculty, for example, can tell you that today’s students spend far less time totaling debits and credits and far more time determining their significance.

Then there’s this foolish, traditional assumption that abilities such as communication, computation, analysis and synthesis are gained exclusively through the liberal arts. Try telling that to a student who’s putting together a major business strategy presentation. Done well, it will require the skillful and comprehensive aggregation of all those abilities. Conversely, are not global awareness, insight into the human condition, an understanding of governments and laws, and the inculcation of ethical principles (who needs those these days?!) of very real value in providing a “bottom line” contribution for many corporations? 

There’s another term for “soft” skills, preferred by Bentley’s Director of Service-Learning, Jonathan White. It’s “civic” skills and is intended, I gather, to describe those skills necessary to participate in all aspects of civic life. While one objective of the term’s usage may be a less pejorative description of that second category of skills above, it seems to me that “civic” should really apply equally to hard and soft skills. A convincing demonstration of that may be found in the work that is accomplished through Bentley’s Service-Learning Center, which promotes academic learning through community involvement. Program projects, whether for academic credit through a specific class or not, enable students to marshal their full range of skills to accomplish specific objectives that benefit community organizations. The hands-on dimension, where various educationally derived skills translate into accomplishment, helps break down the “hard/soft” dichotomy that typically confronts millennials at many other institutions in their search for career preparation. No wonder blending so-called theoretical and applied learning was one of the principle solutions endorsed by PreparedU study respondents. As was the integration of the arts and sciences with professional disciplines, although to a somewhat lesser degree.

Entrepreneurship is just another word for accomplishment.

Speaking of accomplishment, the millennial generation reportedly is very interested in entrepreneurship. The PreparedU Project has run any number of pieces supporting the premise. But, when you parse it out, I think that entrepreneurship could also mean a desire for accomplishment in an environment that supports it.

Doesn’t every company do that? Isn’t that what business is all about? You would think. But take, for example, an acquaintance in the energy field who complained last week that every time he expends more than $7, he has to get it approved by the next three layers of management. He’s working in an environment that supports, not accomplishment, but bureaucracy. And that company is far from alone.

Accomplishment is becoming the coin of the realm. Perhaps apocryphal, there are reports from Silicon Valley that recruiters ask potential employees not where they’ve gone to school or what they’ve studied, but simply what they’ve done. Blumberg Capital’s Gloria Hui testified earlier on this site to the virtues of personal qualities and accomplishment without benefit of higher education. Indeed, one in four millennial college graduates surveyed by PreparedU does not believe that a college degree is necessary to succeed, while approximately 40 percent of business executives disagree that a college degree alone is a sign of future success. 

The point is that opportunity for achievement, perhaps rapid achievement, is what warms the hearts of many millennials. Much as start-ups are proliferating and have a definite and deserved allure, it would seem that larger firms can capitalize on the millennial entrepreneurial mindset by creating an entrepreneurial environment within their organizations. The PreparedU study asked whether corporations would have to change to accommodate millennials — or the other way around. Not surprisingly, a significant percentage of respondents said both. In the coming months, PreparedU will investigate “Companies Where Millennials Thrive” to learn more.

Another take on “everybody else has a problem except me.”

It’s not uncommon for respondents to any survey to agree that while a problem exists for almost everybody else, it doesn’t affect them, or they’re not to blame. In the PreparedU study we see that dynamic at play in findings that affirm that millennials are slugs except for my kids, or women don’t get enough encouragement except from me. 

You get the idea. So let me join the club because I’m frankly puzzled why millennials get such bad press, particularly when it comes to work ethic.

I collaborate with a number of millennials, and three of them in particular — as it happens, all women — are living contradictions to a lot of the negative stereotypes applied to millennials. Check the offices after hours and it isn’t unusual to find one or more still at their desks long after everybody else has gone home. Or come in very early some morning and you can find the one who is a mother hard at it, happy for the flex time that will allow her to get home a little earlier to try to achieve the fabled “work-life balance.” 

And, yes, as PreparedU respondents believed would be the case, they are all extraordinarily proficient in using technology and their skills to leverage productivity in a way that has a boomer like me in awe.

So, I’m not sure what’s wrong with millennials. Maybe it goes back to the old survey bugaboo: Everybody else has a problem except me. All I know is, based on my experience with my millennial colleagues, if I get a chance to hire another one, I most certainly am going to do so.

Is this millennial skills crisis really just typical generational tension?

That’s what the PreparedU data seem to suggest. Almost 40 percent of non-millennials said that they had trouble relating to millennials, while two-thirds of millennials believe that older generations don’t understand them.

There’s that old gag line: When I was 18, I couldn’t believe what an idiot my father was. By the time I turned 30, I was amazed at how much smarter he had become. 

But aren’t these millennials, who have been pouring out of higher education for the past 15 years or so, the same ones whose mothers and fathers were condemned for being “helicopter” parents? And shouldn’t these parents by now be monopolizing the ranks of corporate recruiters and senior executives (those millennial doubters surveyed by PreparedU)? And aren’t these the same parents who bought the trophies for every child on every team, who wrote the essays on their kids’ applications for admission, who even sat in on some of their kids’ job interviews?

So shouldn’t these millennials really love dear old Dad and Mom? And vice versa? Or so the story goes. Which makes me wonder what happens when, after graduating from college, sonny boy shows up for an interview with Dad’s friend. And Mom has to interview one of sis’s friends. Verdict from both: These millennials are no good!!??

Could that mean that the millennial generation is simply undergoing delayed disaffection, ending up in the same boat as previous generations? Is it possible that they really did lose the love of their helicopter parents? Did the helicopter crash?

I don’t buy it. You better believe that the helicopter parents of millennials still love their kids and would hire them in a second.

But evidently it’s everybody else’s kids that are the problem. 

Vic Schlitzer is director of brand and content marketing at Bentley.

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Empowerment

Some kids have parents that empowered them by teaching them how to get into a top college or university. Empowered kids can navigate their way through tough situations -- helicopter parenting (in most cases just good parenting), school boards choosing to teach the academic subjects required to lift a kid up to success. Other kids were not empowered by their parents or communities -- those kids are just as smart and capable, but their community failed to teach them the things they needed to know for success. An empowered young person votes, volunteers in the community and knows how to write a letter to his or congressman if an injustice has been done. As a result, empowered people get their way more often in our society than not. Communities lower on the socioeconomic scale, more often than not, do not teach civic education as an avenue to political empowerment; therefore, children in those communities seldom get into top colleges and universities and their voices are seldom heard. Everybody loves their kids, it's just that not all kids across America have been taught the same things in their communities. Therefore, some kids are more politically empowered than others -- the millennials are no exception.