Millenials and the Transformation of Jobs

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 To kick off our prep work for the Global Youth Summit, the ITU hosted special one-day MILLENNIALS JAM WORKSHOP at its ICT Discover Center, with an exclusive and select group of 40 entrepreneurial young people. The objective of this unique one-day event is to crowd-source a more detailed framework for the Summit where approximately 25,000 young people will input their ideas for the post-2015 global development agenda. ITU/Rowan Farrell

The job landscape is always changing. That is why it might be a good idea to not take your parents’ career advice to heart. Millenials (those born between 1980 and the mid-90s) are entering a frustrating job market and, apparently, struggling. They are chronically underemployed and highly indebted. A study by the Guardian newspaper shows that inequality is rising between generations in Western economies. On average, early 20 somethings have a disposable income 20% lower than national averages in the UK, US, Germany, France, Spain, and others. Conversely, pensioners’ disposable income has risen, with the sharpest rise in the UK.

Some critics (most of whom are baby boomers) explain this phenomenon away by calling millennials lazy, entitled, self-obsessed and gleefully refer to them as the “Me Me Me Generation.” Meanwhile, factors such as an increase in housing prices, unemployment, and debt are overlooked. In the US, total student debt hit a new peak last year, at $1.2 trillion. The Economist reported that millenials “are being held down” by the older generation and blamed national policies favouring the old over the young.

Contrary to the belief that welfare states are fair to all, they primarily protect the older generation through healthcare and pension plans of which they benefit the most, and labour laws that make it hard to lay them off. The net flow of public resources is now from young to old in countries like Germany and Hungary. This is partly because of ageing societies, which makes millenials the first generation living societies that nurture their elderly more than their youngest. With the young being at least twice as likely as their elders to be unemployed, your parents’ grumpy advice to “Just get a job!” has never been trickier to heed. Furthermore, as the best-educated generation ever, millennials are not just looking for any job. A survey published by the World Economic Forum found that there is a generational shift in the concept of work. It found that young people aged between twenty and thirty prioritize “opportunities to make a difference in society” and “opportunities to learn” over “career advancement.” In the workplace, millennials’ concept of work clashes with their seniors’.

According to Deloitte’s Millenial Survey 2015, only 28% of millennials feel their current organizations make use of their skills. Conversely, with no qualms about job hopping, millennials are exposing companies to high turnovers and inciting an aversion to mentor relationships. Gen Y Inc, an organizational culture consultancy, found that there are several generational misunderstandings at the workplace. Senior executives expect junior staff to climb the ladder upwards just as they did. However, generally senior staff have long tenures and spent 20 to 40 years in the same company. Millenials who are coined as “entrepreneurial” do not consider that appealing. As a result, junior staff’s talents are not fully utilized and they can be easily let go after having exercised only menial tasks for a few months. Aside from socio-economic factors and generational differences, another danger looming over the job market is the belief that robots will take over our jobs, leaving millennials jobless. Our world is continuously evolving and “disrupting” itself at such breakneck speed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is, allegedly, already upon us. While the prior Third Industrial Revolution was about information systems and electronically automated production, the new revolution is about digital connections between people and devices. Unprecedented processing power and limitless storage capacity are causing breakthroughs in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and much more. While automation is taking over old jobs, these breakthroughs are creating new industries and new jobs. Overall, robots do not just take jobs but also create them. For example, IT departments did not exist 30 years ago. According to the Harvard Business Review, the “sexiest job of the 21st century” is the data scientist. Most people have probably never heard of this job. Glassdoor, a job site that gathers employee feedback and company reviews, affirmed that data scientist is the best job of 2016. It ranks number one with the highest job openings and highest median base salary. The Economic Times report that data scientists in the US can expect to get upwards of $200,000 per year. In India, they are earning more than engineers. So who are these data scientists? They are those who look at Big Data: huge amounts of messy data that a company creates through daily operations and interactions with its clients. They leverage this data by applying algorithms, and structure data in a way that helps the managers derive important insights and pinpoint business opportunities.

Big Data applications are popping up all over different sectors. In the case of the financial sector; banks and credit card companies hold records of all your card transactions with details about where, when and on what you spend your money. Your bank can learn about your spending habits and predict which products you would be interested in, making their marketing campaigns more personalized and effective. Already many companies are using machine learning to help their marketers. The marketer’s job is transformed by the integration of data analytics. Other less fortunate jobs are increasingly automated and are vulnerable to big lay-offs. For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland laid off 200 financial advisors and replaced them with robo-advisors this year. According to a 2013 University of Oxford study; many jobs in transportation, logistics and administrative field will disappear. Conversely, employment opportunities will increase in automotive, food and beverage, electronics and renewable energy. Best of all, not everyone needs to be an engineer to find a job created by robots. The job market outlook for millennials might look dark at first sight. Technology is evolving fast, but public policies and education programs are not keeping up. Job security is favored over the flexibility needed to transform and create new jobs, in traditional as well as emerging fields. We cannot predict what kind of transformation the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring but we know the scale of the impact will be fundamental. Millenials should not worry as much about the myth of a jobless dystopia, but instead feel inspired by the way they will transform the job market. The job market needs millennials, as much as millenials need a job.

By Paula Cantero Dieguez