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How the recession impacts job outlook for the millennials

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk  December 15, 2008 09:15 AM

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By Aaron Green

Since millennials, or Generation Y, entered the workforce they’ve only seen positive trends in demand for labor, career development opportunities and unemployment rates — until now.

The current recession is sure to have an impact on this youngest generation of workers, the millennials. Here are some trends to watch for in 2009:

Millennials’ rosy expectations for career advancement will remain intact

Millennials’ desire to change jobs and their faith that they will continue to advance in their chosen career path is not just a byproduct of the recent relatively strong job market. Millennials will continue to be on the lookout for more interesting and fulfilling work, even if it means taking risks and changing jobs in an uncertain climate. And they’ve got reason to feel this way – with Baby Boomers retiring and fewer workers to replace them in Gen X, demographics point to a sustained demand for Gen Y workers. Furthermore, so far this recession has seen a disproportionate number of job cuts among senior workers, with heftier salaries and benefits, as compared with relatively lower-paid, less experienced workers.

But this outlook will be tempered by more “adult” considerations in the short term

Millennials have also been nicknamed “Generation Debt,” and there is certain to be anxiety and pressure for them to compromise their expectations for the sake of steady income. The flexible attitude and approach they bring to work/life balance, their ability to move back home with their parents, and their considerable networking skills will serve them well as they navigate the current downturn.

The current environment of layoffs will serve to reinforce lack of loyalty

Many people say that GenY displays less loyalty toward their employers than displayed by previous generations. This recession is bringing about layoffs and job elimination and GenY’ers are watching their coworkers/friends/family lose their jobs. The recession will leave an imprint on the millennials and will reinforce the tendency to display limited loyalty toward employers. millennials will focus on gaining valuable skills and marketing these skills to those employers willing to pay for them. The message received from this recession is that your employer won’t take care of you so you need to take care of yourself. To some extent I don’t blame millennials for their lack of loyalty, nonetheless better employers are taking steps to retain staff and to create an employment brand. For more information, read the On Staffing column, What is loyalty and how do you develop it?

Emphasis on building career skills will position millennials well for the long-term

I’ve written in the past about what millennials look for in their ideal job – including meaningful work, an emphasis on social responsibility, personal growth and advancement and team atmosphere (What do Millennials teach us about the future of the workplace?). All of these things help millennials develop into strong employees in any economic climate. For example, even if it’s more difficult and less rewarding financially right now, millennials will still pursue job experiences that can help their long-term career growth. Furthermore, working in this difficult recessionary environment will provide many with learning and advancement opportunities that would not have been available in a robust economy.

Though no one can predict the future, I enjoy observing the work habits and preferences of the millennials, the youngest generation currently in our workforce, as their attitude toward work is an exciting bellwether of things to come.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Offshore Resources. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.

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