Are Millennials Ready for the 21st-Century Workforce?

Bentley President Gloria Larson co-hosts panel discussion at inaugural Bloomberg Business Summit to kick off The PreparedU Project

The millennial workforce is expected to be the largest in U.S. history, yet, the national rate of unemployment for graduates stands at nearly eight percent.

Millennials think they’re ready for work, but many employers beg to differ.

These facts and perceptions helped set the stage for the “Millennials in the Workplace” panel discussion at the Bloomberg Business Summit in Chicago on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.

Led by Bentley University President Gloria Larson and Bloomberg's "Taking Stock" Co-Host Carol Massar, the discussion featured Shama Kabani, Founder & CEO of the Marketing Zen Group, and PayScale President & CEO, Mike Metzger. 

In front of an audience full of influential business leaders from around the globe, the panelists had a spirited discussion on what it means for college graduates to be prepared, the value of millennials in the workplace and how colleges and business can work better—together—to prepare recent grads for their careers.

The discussion led off with preliminary research findings from Bentley University’s forthcoming groundbreaking preparedness study, the single-most comprehensive survey on millennials in the workplace to date.

Businesses Have to Sell It

Massar opened up the discussion with a debate on the millennial generation’s perception of business careers.  

Nearly six in ten college students are not considering a career in business, and 48 percent have not been encouraged to do so, Massar noted, citing the Preparedness Study, to lay the foundation for the first of four key discussion topics. Watch this talk.

It’s apparent that businesses are facing a perception problem. It’s not that millennials aren’t interested in business careers—they are—but they need one that matches their values and passions. That’s hard to find. Millennials lump traditional businesses with the muck and mire of Wall Street scandals and negative big-biz media noise. They seek employers that can offer social responsibility and green-conscious innovation to match their generation’s uniquely entrepreneurial spirit.

The millennial generation is ten times more likely than their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts to pursue a role in entrepreneurship and marketing. As PayScale’s Metzger’s observed, the definition of business is changing.

Will businesses change with it?

Businesses who find success with millennials have found ways to link workforce production with the passions of the individual. When millennials can align passions with businesses’ needs, said President Larson, “they get it done every time, better than any generation.”

Lost in Millennial Translation

The panelists discussed a key insight from Bentley University’s Preparedness Study: the fact that the majority of business decision-makers, corporate recruiters and higher education influential give recent college graduates a “C’ or lower on preparedness.

In this second video, the panel challenges this notion. Watch this talk

“They just do it differently.”

President Larson contended that the workforce paradigm is shifting. Millennials are results-oriented professionals with a different, abstract set of creative communication skills.

Instead of focusing on repetitive, process-driven tasks that are often associated with the traditional business territory, millennials can be game changers. They want to shake up their workplace, with the freedom to do so.

How long will it take for recent grads and businesses to speak the same language in the workforce?

Millennials: Different AND Valuable

Sixty three percent of business decision makers and 68 percent of corporate recruiters say that it’s difficult to manage millennials.

Are they difficult, or just different?

When asked about managing millennials, Kabani offered insight into how to best handle this new generation of employees. “Millennials hate that red tape. We have a very bright millennial employee who quit her last job because she had to fill out three forms to get a stapler. This took half a day.” The upswing? Millennials aren’t shy about providing feedback to help improve processes. Watch this talk

Colleges Coming Around

Bentley’s preliminary research shows that 74 percent surveyed agree that business and universities should work together to properly prepare students for the workforce.

What does that mean for the evolving college classroom?

“Pure liberal arts are softening up on this idea. Internships are now the way to go, as well as corporate immersion classes,” said President Larson. “Colleges get that they have to bring business in and align curriculum around what’s actually happening.” Watch this talk

Kabani offered a poignant closing thought.

“Instead of being called ‘Millennials,’ we could have just called this panel ‘How Do You Manage the Workforce?’ because that’s essentially who you’re working with.”

“So how can we work together to turn this around?” Massar asked. Stay tuned. Bentley University is inviting others to join it in seeking solutions in the coming months, as the bulk of The PreparedU Project’s findings are unveiled in early 2014.

What do you think should be done to better prepare millennials for today’s workforce?

You can join the conversation now at, and share your thoughts on Twitter using #PreparedU.

For more coverage, please see Bloomberg’s recap of the panel discussion.

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The Panel

Mike Metzger
Mike Metzger

Mike joined PayScale in 2004 as the chief executive officer. Previously, he was the CEO and president of Performant, managing all aspects of building and running the company, which was sold to Mercury Interactive.

Prior to his work at Performant, Mike served as vice president of Product and Services for WRQ where he co-authored the strategic plan and vision for the company.

Mike also spent time at RealNetworks where he directed software product marketing efforts, started the Real Broadcast Network, managed the product marketing for successful launches of RealAudio 3.0 and 4.0, and led the creation and development of an ASP stream hosting business for RealNetworks, which led to more than $3 million in revenue in the first full year.

Earlier in his career, he held various positions at Microsoft, including international product manager, lead product manager for MS Works and group manager for Consumer Marketing.

Mike holds an MBA in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Clarkson University.

Shama Kabani
Zen Group
Shama Kabani
Zen Group

Known as the “Zen Master of Marketing” by Entrepreneur Magazine and the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by Fast Company, Shama Kabani is a visionary strategist for the digital age.

She is the bestselling author of the Zen of Social Media Marketing and an acclaimed international keynote speaker who’s been invited to share the stage with the world’s top leaders, including President Obama and the Dalai Lama.

As the CEO of the award-winning Marketing Zen Group, a full service web marketing and digital PR firm, she’s led the organization through explosive growth, averaging 400% growth annually since its start in 2009. Shama was named as one of the “Top 30 Under 30” Entrepreneurs in America by Inc Magazine in 2013 and was honored at the White House as one of the top 100 U.S. companies to be run by a young entrepreneur by Empact100.

A trusted media expert and sought-after TV personality, Shama has frequently appeared on Fox Business, CBS, CW33 and Fox News. As a thought leader, she’s been featured in many major publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Inc Magazine and Forbes.

Carol Massar
Co-host "Taking Stock"
Carol Massar
Co-host "Taking Stock"

Carol Massar is chief national correspondent for Bloomberg and co-host of "Taking Stock" on Bloomberg Radio. She provides in-depth coverage and analysis of major economic and business trends across Bloomberg's media platforms, including in-depth reporting on global corporations.

An award-winning journalist with over 20 years of experience, Massar joined Bloomberg Television in 1999. During her time at Bloomberg, Massar has reported from around the globe including covering the World Economic Forum in India, the APEC Women and the Economy Summit, World Business Forum, MIT Sloan - CFO Summit the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. She has also interviewed top leaders in business, economics, government and philanthropy including Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, The Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger, Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, Templeton Emerging Markets Group Executive Chairman Mark Mobius, investor Carl Icahn, obel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and Melinda Gates and Eli Broad In 2006, Massar anchored "The Ethanol Fix – Breaking America's Addiction to Oil," which won numerous awards including the National Gracie Award from the American Women in Radio and Television. In 2012, she was recognized by the New York Press Club for her series "Race for the Next Facebook."

Massar began her career as a producer at the Financial News Network. She later served as a producer, reporter and anchor for Dow Jones Television which aired in the U.S., Asia and Europe. Massar was also a correspondent for "The Asian Wall Street Journal Report" and “The Wall Street Journal Report" produced by Dow Jones and later by CNBC.

Massar earned a degree in economics from Barnard College/Columbia University, where she also delivered business news over Columbia’s radio waves.

Gloria Cordes Larson
Bentley University
Gloria Cordes Larson
Bentley University

Gloria Cordes Larson, JD, joined Bentley University as its president in July 2007 after a prestigious career as an attorney, public policy expert, and business leader.  She was drawn to the Boston area business school because of its inventive approach to redefining business education by integrating a core business curriculum with the arts and sciences and its focus on ethics and social responsibility.

During Larson’s tenure, the institution became a university and established a number of new programs focused on the value of a business education.  Its most recent innovation, the Bentley MBA, is a true departure from traditional programs in both content and delivery.   In the 11-month global program students pursue four 10-week modules in a collaborative, studio-based setting, covering four themes: innovation, value, environments, and leadership which are designed and taught jointly by business and arts and sciences faculty.  At the undergraduate level the school expanded its commitment to a “fused” curriculum, which already features a Liberal Studies double major, and added four six-credit courses that are co-taught by business and arts & sciences faculty.  Larson also launched the Center for Women and Business at Bentley in 2011 with a mission to advance shared leadership among women and men in the corporate world and to develop women business leaders.  

Before joining Bentley, Larson was widely recognized for her significant influence in economic policy at the state and federal level.  She was co-chair of the Government Strategies Group at Foley Hoag LLP, just prior to joining the university, and worked in the public sector before that serving as Secretary of Economic Affairs under Massachusetts Governor William Weld and Deputy Director of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission.

Larson is well known for her significant corporate leadership and civic involvement.  She is a director of Unum Group, chairing Unum’s Regulatory Compliance Committee; a director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, where she is vice-chairman of the Board; president of the Massachusetts Conference for Women and sits on the executive committees of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, where she was previously the first female chair.  She also serves on the Board of Advisors for Rosie’s Place, a Boston-based sanctuary for poor and homeless women, and the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.  Recent honors include the Boston Business Journal’s “Power 50: Influential Bostonians”; Boston Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Boston”; and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural “Collaborative Leadership Award” and “Academy of Distinguished Bostonians Award.”

Larson received her bachelor of arts with honors from Vassar College and earned her juris doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.