In an ironic reprise of the “generation gap” that defined the post-WWII baby boom generation’s coming of age in the 1960s, the current recession is highlighting intergenerational tensions affecting their “Echo-boom” offspring.
Pointing to historically high unemployment among the college-educated 30 and younger, sometimes referred to as “Millennials” or “Gen Y,” Twin Cities-based executive recruiter Simon Foster worries that younger people are not getting the experience of “what the workforce is like” and said companies needs to be careful “not to create a big issue in the future” where a large number of young people lack real-world work experience.
In addition to the recession increasing unemployment for every age bracket, cutbacks in college recruiting and hiring, as well as a slower rate of natural attrition among existing workers, have further limited openings for younger workers. Foster described the plight of college-educated young people trying, with their parents’ help “to pull every string,” without success, to find employment. “It’s a real problem. They can’t get a job.”
In a follow-up interview expanding on comments he had made at a recent Minnesota Chamber of Commerce meeting, he spoke with MinnPost about the job outlook for younger workers. Foster, who founded the online grocery company SimonDelivers.com, is now a consultant at SpencerStuart in Minneapolis.
As some employers offer part-time arrangements for older workers who defer retirement because of their shrunken savings and economic anxiety, Foster worries that many companies are ignoring “the other end of the hiring spectrum” — and their future workforce. Organizations should view internships or other strategies to bring younger workers into the company as “an opportunity to look at a terrific workforce” at low cost and low risk, he said.
In addition, companies are “ignoring the strengths” of younger workers because the different working style of the first generation to grow up with the Internet is “not well understood.” It’s an issue that has “definitely come on the radar screen” at large companies over the last year, he said. HR executives identify the new work style as one of their greatest challenges in recruiting and retaining Gen Y employees.
He characterized Gen Y as “much more collaborative, less competitive … way more connected … and tapping into much broader wisdom and perspectives,” which he believes companies could benefit from.
In what he described as a “baby boomer type mindset,” the older generation perceives that Gen Y “does not work as hard and is not as intense” as many of them were.
Foster cited as an example, policies that prohibit access to Facebook at work because those setting the policy don’t understand the medium and are “afraid people will do inappropriate things.” Younger people use the site as their mode of communication and for staying in touch with colleagues and friends. “Just like the telephone,” he explained. Denying access “is like cutting off their arm,” he said.
Boomer managers have to “be open-minded … and trust Gen Y to do the job,” he said. Those organizations that have made their policies more accommodating have seen an increase in productivity and engagement among younger workers, Foster reported.
Commenting on the employment outlook for senior-level searches, Foster said he has “definitely seen hiring trending up the last six months, month-to-month,” selectively by industry. He reported that the health care sector, global companies and those with little leverage are active in hiring.
While CEO searches are down “a small amount,” he said, searches for new board members have nearly ceased altogether as existing boards “hunker down and stick with who they know” unless a mandatory retirement forces a replacement.
For searches below the CEO level, the higher unemployment among seasoned executives means that the candidate slate is double or triple what it used to be for any job search. Hiring companies think that makes it easier to find right person, but Foster said finding the right candidate is actually more difficult now.
People already in a job are “less willing to move, less willing to talk [to a recruiter]. They don’t want to attract attention … don’t want to jeopardize the job they are in,” he said.