Millennials: Starting Up or Starting Over in the Face of Recessionary Pay Gaps

While more Millennials are bucking up and taking whatever job they can get, whether it's a permanent shift remains to be seen. Some believe they are just biding their time until the economy brightens.
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Has the recession forced Millennials out of their "child of prosperity" induced sense of entitlement? For years Millennials were stuck with the reputation of changing jobs at the drop of a hat and seeking fulfillment rather than fetching coffee. Now they are stuck with a pay gap.

Last week a Forbes Women article by Megan Casserly renamed Millennials the "Stuck Generation" as their earnings stay frozen at entry-levels and rise up the ladder gets a false start. (The New Pay Gap: Boomers, Gen X and Millennials). The article predicts Millennials will face a continuing income lag due to pay freezes, lower starting salaries and inability to get a job at all. This past year the unemployment rate for those under 30 hit its lowest point since 1948 according to the Dept. of Labor.

A November 2010 article on Human Resource Executive Online, reinforces this prediction. It cites a study conducted by Lisa Kahn, an economics professor at the Yale School of Management, finding that white males who graduated during the recession of 1980 earned six percent to eight percent less than non-recession era graduates and still 2.5 percent less 15 years out of school.

The article goes on to predict that the situation will not get any better by graduation and key hiring season this May. So don't get too excited about getting out of your parents basement.

But what of this basement? Is that where young people are innovating to create the next Facebook and beyond? Is the recession making way for more entrepreneurial start-ups as many have predicted? The Millennials are hailed a generation born for entrepreneurship with their extensive education, tech savvy and achievement orientation. Scott Gerber, a Millennial friendly angel investor and author of "Never Get a Real Job" urges Millennials forge an escape hatch out of the recession through entrepreneurship. He believes that the only option may to create your own job if jobs don't exist. He says:

In today's world, young people will need to create a job to keep a job. Millennials need to re-train themselves to become self-sufficiency experts capable of generating their own incomes.

With more tools at their disposal, a knack for thinking outside the box and a natural instinct to avoid the proverbial corporate ladder, fearless Gen Yers (also known as Millennials) are changing the world of business and redefining the entrepreneurial movement.

Yet at the same time, an April 2010 Allstate/National Journal poll indicates that security is looking better to Millennials:

A solid majority of Millennials, 55 percent to 34 percent, would prefer 'long-term employment with a single employer' to the 'opportunity to change employers and even professions' during their career. Asked what type of employment offers them the best opportunity to achieve their goals, nearly half picked what have historically been the most stable options: large companies, government, education and the military. When poll respondents were asked to rank their most important priorities in the workplace, job security finished slightly ahead of high pay, a flexible work schedule, solid benefits, intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to make a difference in society.

This flies in the face of much that has been said about Millennials. So what is it? Are Millennials adapting to recession workforce realities or rallying to change the world of business? I think the disparity lies in the idea of self-starting vs. start-up. Maybe corporations can still leverage Millennials instinct for collaboration and starting over.

They are restless and not willing to take no for an answer. They were taught they can achieve any goal... from video games to SAT tests -- if you don't succeed try again. Now they are taking this approach to finding jobs. As the product of play-groups and "no child is left behind," they work the system to achieve their own end. Now they are pulling together and looking for new models of employment, shifting from competitive job searching to collaborative job creation,

One laid-off Millennial I spoke with wasted no time licking his wounds. Instead he met up at a friend's apartment everyday with other victims of the recession "to come up with projects we can make happen." Ultimately they ended up sharing jobs -- trading freelance opportunities and bringing in others from the group to help them complete a job. Similarly, my 20-something nephew related that his peers were embracing freelance work and collaborating to find health insurance since it was so hard for the self-employed to obtain.

Many Millennials are using Facebook and other social networks to look for jobs. Who needs recruiters when you can make your own connections rather being one of many from the resume pile? One 23 year old told me:

We utilize as many connections as possible. We believe you can find a place where your skills are wanted so you can do real work rather than sit in meetings or not get the job because you don't have experience.

This distrust of traditional recruitment is consistent with the skepticism of corporate America we've heard about. They are eager to get their hands dirty and be part of the action. Why pay your dues if it won't pay off in today's non-loyal environment? But it also reflects a can do spirit.

While more Millennials are bucking up and taking whatever job they can get, whether it's a permanent shift remains to be seen. Some believe they are just biding their time until the economy brightens. But maybe there's an opportunity here. While they may not trust the corporate ladder, maybe they're not opposed to working the corporate ladder.

Is it to Corporate America's and the economy's benefit to find ways to leverage this self-starting and team-oriented generation? Can small business and start-ups alone provide for the 70-something Millennials out there? Certainly for as many stories of creating a job there are stories of the terminally unemployed. Perhaps we need to call for change in the traditional workforce as well as call for entrepreneurs as per Scott Gerber.

There are so many articles on how to manage Millennials in the workplace. Why don't more companies change the workplace to leverage Millennials? Is it time for job terms? Four-year job commitments with a jump year to explore your next shift? Can corporations offer dual paths whereby Millennials can pursue two careers at the same time? Should companies create an internal job replacement network? You can swap jobs with each other as long as you are responsible for the end result -- you find and train your own replacement without any loss to productivity.

Can we all use a little retraining to unstick the this "Stuck Generation?" Now is the time to call on 20-somethings to help create solutions both inside and outside the corporate world. Try, try again.

I'm sure there are many more ideas, some already employed by Millennial friendly corporations around the world. Please share your ideas here or on

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