Jun 10, 2014

From the Archives

Millennials: Big Career Goals, Limited Job Prospects

As graduation season wraps up, newly minted college and high school grads are entering the job market, diplomas in hand, to make their way in the world. Barna Group’s FRAMES research reveals Millennials’ perspectives on the challenges they face as they join America’s workforce. 20 and Something, written by David H. Kim, executive director of the Center for Faith and Work in New York City, unpacks Barna’s vast data on Millennials and work, calling, marriage, family, faith and more. Kim offers insight for institutions like churches and businesses on how to understand and relate to twentysomethings as they emerge into adulthood.

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Here is a first-read excerpt from 20 and Something on Millennials and career.

The traditional commencement speech platitudes that welcome students into the opportunities of adulthood—”the whole world is before you”; you just have to “follow your dreams” to “make a difference”—often ring hollow in this depressed economy. Hundreds of thousands of graduating Millennials are discovering the world is not their oyster, and jobs are much harder to find than anyone had expected. As such, it’s easy to question the value of higher education. Only four in 10 twentysomethings would say they need their college degree for their current job (42%) or that it’s related to the work they’re doing (40%), and the same number wish they’d chosen a different major altogether. In the end, just under half of Millennials (47%) would strongly agree their degree was worth the cost and time.

The degree-to-job disparity seems to bother parents most of all. While only about one-third of Millennials believe universities “have my best interests at heart,” that’s nearly twice as many as Gen-Xers (15%) and four times as many as Boomers (8%). Considering most Millennials remain optimistic about someday achieving that “dream job”—52% believe it’s within reach in the next five years—they seem to believe the degree will pay off at some point.

Job Prospecting
The current economic climate poses great challenges for job-hunting twentysomethings. The unemployment rate of 18- to 31-year-olds in 2012 was 13%.¹ Even those young adults who are college educated are struggling to find employment; the rate of unemployment of twentysomethings who hold a BA degree or higher jumped from 7.7% in 2007 to 13.3% in just five years.

Given these statistics, it would be easy in this depressed job market for Millennials to become extremely nervous about their financial situations and cynical about work.

Yet in spite of the bleak economic landscape, Millennials remain optimistic about their future prospects. In addition to the majority who believe they’ll get their dream job, nine in 10 Millennials (88%) believe they currently have enough money or will eventually meet their long-term financial goals.² Even among the unemployed and financially strapped, 75% believe they will someday have enough money. They are more optimistic about their economic future than older generations. While 55% of Americans over fifty-five believe young people will have a worse life than their parents, fewer than half of Millennials agree.

One of the reasons Millennials are so resilient in the face of a tough job environment is that many of them refuse to be defined and confined by their job choices or lack thereof. In fact, only 31% would say career is central to their identity—listing it lower than any other factor except technology.

Millennials see their twenties as a time to explore their career options so they can find a job that will provide that sense of meaning and fulfillment. This may be a little confounding to their parents. Two-thirds of Boomers say “starting your career” is crucial in your twenties, while only half of Millennials agree.

When it comes to work and career, more than anything this generation wants to be inspired. Finding a job they are passionate about is the career priority Millennials ranked highest (42%). They don’t want a job merely for the sake of a paycheck, and they are willing to wait to find the right job. Some may interpret this willingness to wait as a sign of courage, while others may view it as colossal irresponsibility. Having grown up in an era where parents and teachers were constantly telling them they could “be whatever you want to be,” many Millennials see this decision as their prerogative, even if it means having to live off unemployment benefits or parental assistance.

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Because job satisfaction and fulfillment are so important to this generation, Millennials refuse to compromise on what they want out of work, which is a lot: They cite working for themselves, a job adaptable to their strengths, having a lot of variety, and the freedom to take risks as essential career priorities, in addition to being able to fund their personal interests. Working in a positive work environment where their input is valued is extremely important to them, suggesting Millennials prefer to work in organizations where the structure is “flatter” and less hierarchical.³ Millennials want regular feedback and expect to be praised when they do a good job. They also want to work in a stimulating atmosphere, where they can release their creative passions. For many who are older, these characteristics and expectations make the Millennials a challenge to work with.

In terms of social impact, twentysomethings have demonstrated a strong desire to work at a job that has a positive impact on causes and issues that are important to them. They feel corporate employers should be socially conscious and have a “triple bottom line”—conscious of their profits, their impact on the environment and their treatment of workers.

This elevation of job fulfillment over security has led to an increase in job-hopping among young adults. Statistics show Millennials just assume they will have multiple career changes. Gone are the days when an entry-level employee could expect to remain with one employer throughout his or her career. While the average worker today remains at his or her job for 4.4 years, Millennials generally expect to remain at a job for less than three.

Entrepreneurial Spirit
Technological advances have played an important role in nurturing the entrepreneurial mind-set of this twentysomething generation. It has never been easier for a would-be entrepreneur to access information and obtain funding for budding projects. Crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture among young adults around the world.

Success stories like Google and Facebook serve as inspirational fodder for twentysomethings who are hungry for success as they define it. For Millennials, the entrepreneurial lifestyle celebrates everything they have come to want in their work lives: self-drive, creativity and an opportunity to use their jobs to make an impact on issues and causes they care about. According to our FRAMES research, Millennials rate working for themselves as an important career priority—higher than any other generation. Young adults want to make their own hours, come to work in their jeans and flip-flops, and save the world while they’re at it.

Even the risk associated with entrepreneurialism is a value for Millennials, nearly one-third of whom prioritize the freedom to take risks in their work as important to them (32%), compared to an average of 25% among all generations. This risk, however, doesn’t come without angst. There are the associated fears of making the wrong career choice, disappointing parents and those closest to them. Nearly half of Millennials (45%) feel judged by older adults for their life choices.

For Christian twentysomethings, there’s the added dimension of wondering what God thinks of their choices and if their decisions are part of God’s will for them. Yet, with all these concerns, these young adults are pioneering the reinvention of many concepts, including the concept of career. They are paving a new way of approaching work, holding out for a work-life mix that integrates how they play and work.

Read more in 20 and Something and find out how you can support and empower Millennials to live into God’s calling for their lives. You’ll also discover twentysomethings’ perspectives on family, faith and life goals.

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About the Research
This research is part of Barna Group’s FRAMES project. The project included four separate nationwide studies conducted between May and August 2013. These public opinion studies were conducted using a mix of telephone (including cell phones) and online interviewing among 4,495 adults. The maximum sampling error for any of the four studies is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Generations: Millennials are the generation born between 1984 through 2002; Busters (or Gen-Xers), between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or earlier.

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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