In my 2009 Psychology Today article, “Millennials Poised To Take Over The Workplace,” I optimistically declared that millennials or Gen Y’ers were poised to replace most Baby Boomers in the workplace. That prediction has not come to pass, partly because of the negative impact of the recent recession, and the fact that many Baby Boomers are not retiring. As a result, the economic and career prospects for millennials are discouraging for many of them. Gen Y'ers are anxious to take their place as our leaders in organizations, opportunities that need to be provided by today's leaders.
Huffington Post Canada, using Abacus Data, surveyed over 1000 Canadians aged 18-30, known as “millennials,” regarding their attitudes towards life from various perspectives. In general, the results revealed that Gen Y is a troubled generation, somewhat pessimistic as a result of their experience in the realities of recent tough economic times.
The survey clearly showed Gen Y’ers see employment and decent jobs as their greatest priority and challenge. The survey also showed millennials shared traditional values for home ownership, marriage, children and early retirement. What distinguishes Gen Y from previous generations, not surprisingly, is their comfort with and use of technology, particularly social media. A poll by Sun Life Financial Canada revealed that Gen Y was hardest hit in the economic downturn. Youth employment remains 250,000 jobs below the prerecession high, the lowest level since 1977. The survey further revealed that 90% of people aged 18-24 reported feeling excessive stress, compared to 72% of all Canadians. Still, Gen Y’ers are faring better than their American counterparts, where almost 46% of them aged 18-24 are unemployed.
Current leaders in organizations, most of whom are still Baby Boomers, need to take notice of the plight of Gen Y’ers, particularly from the perspective of grooming future leaders. One such initiative has been the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) Mentorship Program. Established in 1998, the program links mentors from the business community with students in the surrounding universities and colleges in the last year of their programs of study. The mentors work one-on-one with the students for an entire year to learn first hand experience (both private and public sector). The Leaders of Tomorrow program has been hugely successful, with more than 1700 students and 800 mentors participating since its inception, and attracting more than a dozen sponsors to fund and support the program initiatives. There are now waiting lists for both students and mentors to participate in the program.
Students in the Leaders of Tomorrow program are required to participate in the four basic pillars of the program: The mentorship arrangement; community volunteerism; networking events and leadership opportunities. In addition, the students receive a membership in the Vancouver Board of Trade and access to its various events and activities.
Austin Nairn, who has managed the Leaders of Tomorrow program for the Vancouver Board of Trade for the past four years, says, “LOT offers students an avenue to apply their academic knowledge, develop strong connections, and prepare for life after graduation. The holistic nature of the program helps students have a greater awareness of possible career paths and often a greater appreciation for community volunteerism. Mentors challenge students to take steps towards meeting their goals and many remain in contact well after the program is complete.”
Current times are difficult for millennials, perhaps more so than many people in other generations appreciate. Taking the initiative to improve the quality of their lives, sustain their optimism and prepare them to the leaders of the future is both a challenge and opportunity that must be embraced.