Millennials, also known as Generation Y (Gen Y), are the cohort generally thought to have been born between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s. This Focus on topic considers international research on recent graduate outcomes of millennials and how prepared they are for the world of work, as well as the strategies employers might need to hire and retain this generation of workers.
What is the research saying?
More than any other generation, millennials feel the need to complete post-secondary education. Research conducted by Burning Glass finds an increasing demand for bachelor degree qualifications within positions traditionally not requiring such credentials. In an Australian study, Life patterns: ten years following Generation Y, the life experiences of millennials are explored, including education and employment. This study shows that in 2015, 82 per cent of the participants completed some form of post-secondary qualification, up four per cent from the previous year. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents stated that they were working in their field of study, while 17 per cent felt they had to complete another degree to work in their field.
However, employers are looking for more than qualifications and technical skills; leaving many millennials feeling under-prepared for the world of work. Preparing employees for the future: challenges for learning organizations today discusses a United States survey of 500 college-educated workers, conducted in 2015. The survey found that 7.9 per cent of respondents felt that college had completely prepared them for their careers, while 2.2 per cent reported a total lack of preparation. The remainder indicated that college helped them feel around 67.2 per cent prepared for what they currently do at work. Interestingly, graduate outcomes appear to differ between countries with Universities UK observing a higher success rate of post-secondary preparedness in graduates. Overall, employability skills such as being adaptable, able to resolve conflicts and possessing an eagerness to learn are increasingly sought after by companies seeking graduates who are well-prepared for the workplace.
The report Life, work, and the emerging workforce: a study of the perceptions and attitudes of Canada's emerging millennial generation divides millennials into two groups. The first are those who are confident in their skills, have found meaningful work, are satisfied in life, optimistic about the future, and believe they were properly prepared by their education. The second are those who have low confidence in their abilities, have not found meaningful work, or are working part-time, and feel their education left them unprepared. Overall this study suggests that in a competitive job market, those with the strongest soft skills, especially the ability to network and communicate effectively, have an advantage.
The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation white paper Making youth employment work: essential elements for a successful strategy states:
'As employers adapt to an increasingly competitive economy, the disparity between what students are taught in the classroom and what they need to know to be successful in the workplace has widened alarmingly. This has created a stark skills gap; too many young adults lack the skills required to succeed in entry-level jobs on day one' (Ditkoff, Susan Wolf; Seldon, Willa; Daniel, Diann, 2015, p. 3).
The paper suggests that employers can help address this gap by providing meaningful work through internships and work experience placements. Meaningful work will build a young person's skills, whilst benefiting the company by developing its future workforce.
Employers need new strategies to hire and retain millennials. The research discussed in How millennials navigate their careers: young adult views on work, life and success, confirms that millennials have high expectations for work-life balance, career advancement, training and development, and meaningful work and career satisfaction. Although expectations regarding job security are low, it is still highly valued. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: winning over the next generation of leaders, focuses on millennials' values, ambitions and growing representation in senior positions. The findings highlight a growing 'loyalty challenge' with one in four millennials stating that they would quit their current position in the next year to do something different. This figure rises to two out of three respondents wishing to reposition by 2020. The report argues that whilst this means significant gains for prospective employers, it also results in a substantial investment loss, in knowledge and experience, for the current employer. Significantly, 71 per cent of respondents express dissatisfaction with how their leadership skills are being developed by their current employer. This indicates that supporting leadership ambitions and career development builds loyalty. Contrary to the stereotype of millennials being a narcissistic, ‘me’ generation, the report found that most are more concerned with having meaningful work and living in an ethical way, rather than making a lot of money.
- America's skills challenge: millennials and the future 
- Does not compute: the high cost of low technology skills in the US - and what we can do about it 
- How millennials navigate their careers: young adult views on work, life and success [US, 2015]
- Microbusinesses, gainful jobs [US, 2015]
- The female millennial: a new era of talent [international, 2015]
Access more research in VOCEDplus
- Comparing millennials to other generations
- Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY)
- Millennials survey: millennials at work: reshaping the workplace
- Telefonica global millennial survey: global results
- Universities equip people with the skills to succeed
- YouthSpeak: global report 2016
Last updated: October 2016