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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.