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What Millennials Really Think About Working

5 tips for boomer parents from a Clark U. poll of twentysomethings

I sometimes worry as my Millennial nieces and nephews scramble to get traction in the working world and find jobs that are meaningful, pay the bills and still allow them to enjoy their lives. (And I celebrate their successes each step of the way as they do.)

So I was intrigued by the new Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults: Work, Education and Identity which surveyed a thousand 21- to 29-year-olds.

One of the findings that made me wince was that only 35 percent of those employed believe the most important job feature to them —“look forward to going each day” — strongly applies to their current position. As the author of Love Your Job: The New Rules of Career Happiness,  I know there are ways they can get more out of work and out of life.

Working for Love and Money

Fortunately, they seem to be onto that notion. “Although their ideal job would pay a lot of money, when push comes to shove, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed would choose a job they love, even if it comes at a lower pay grade,” according to the report by poll director Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, the Clark psychology professor who coined the term “emerging adults.”

Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed would choose a job they love, even if it comes at a lower pay grade.

— Clark University poll report

To dig deeper into what the poll says about Millennials and work, I asked Arnett — a Next Avenue contributor and co-author of Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years — to share some insights and offer recommendations to parents (and aunts and uncles) of young workers. I also spoke to Dan Schawbel, another Millennial guru, whose WorkplaceTrends.com worked with the Workforce Institute at Kronos to release The Corporate Culture and Boomerang Employee Study. Schawbel’s also the author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules to Career Success.

5 Pointers for Parents

Here are their five pointers (plus one that Arnett and I disagree about):

1. The money you put into your kids’ college education is worth it. “Yes, it is a financial burden to provide education for your kids, but it is more important than ever,” Arnett says. The Clark poll found that only 17 percent of respondents with less than a high school education are employed full-time, compared to 36 percent for those with higher education.

Of those with an associate’s degree or higher, 60 percent said they were satisfied with the employment opportunities their college degree has afforded them.

A whopping 80 percent said it is more important than ever to get education or training beyond high school to find a good job.

Arnett says they’re right (granted, he is a college professor): “You have to have an education more than anything else to get a job. It doesn’t have to be a four-year degree, but it has to be something. We are in the midst of a shift from manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, meaning that you have to know stuff that other people don’t know and that other people will pay you for because you know it and they don’t.”

One finding of interest to parents whose kids aren’t yet college age: More than 1 in 5 emerging adults surveyed said they think they would have benefited more from their college experience if they’d waited to go a year or two after high school.

2. Financial support for your kids after college is the new reality. Nearly half (49 percent) of those surveyed receive some type of assistance from their parents. One reason: The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is now 10.1 percent, double the overall 5.3 percent unemployment rate; Millennials now make up 40 percent of the nation’s unemployed.

Once college ends, “parents feel that they should be done with providing for them, but they’re not,” Arnett says.

Many of the recent grads who are working have either a part-time job (70 percent surveyed work fewer than 40 hours a week) or a full-time position that doesn’t pay enough to live on.

Although these emerging adults often find themselves asking for money, they don’t like it anymore than their parents do. “They’re really striving hard to be self-sufficient,” Arnett says. “They really want to be able to make their own decisions and relying on your parents for money means you can’t.”

3. These days, temporary jobs are cool — not a badge of shame. Don’t fret if you child is running through a series of contract jobs in his or her early- to mid-20s, says Arnett. The poll found that 1 in 9 emerging adults are paid per job or on a freelance basis; 1 in 6 are self-employed.

“That’s part of finding their way into the labor market to finding that first career job, and that’s OK,” advises Arnett.

4. Job jumping and career changing is part of growing up. A full 60 percent surveyed expect to change career paths at least once or twice and 65 percent said they don’t see themselves in the same field they’re currently in 10 years down the line.

Don’t roll your eyes. These views may not be all that different from what their boomer parents have done in their careers. Data released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this year found that boomers born between 1957 and 1964 held almost a dozen jobs between age 18 and 48.

Personally, I’ve changed employers at least a handful of times for higher pay, more benefits and a chance to move up the ladder. In fact, I switched jobs twice between 24 and 29 and five times before 40.

“Millennials are switching jobs because they’re searching for the job —and organization — of best fit, “ says Schawbel.

In the Clark poll, most respondents said they would “never be willing to stay in a boring job in the long run, no matter how well it paid.”

Interestingly, according to Schawbel’s study with the Workforce Institute, “this younger generation is more likely to boomerang back to a former employer when they’ve experienced other company cultures and realized what they’ve missed.”

5. Complaining about work issues comes with the territory. “When have young people not felt like they weren’t paid enough?” asks Arnett.

Nearly 4 in 5 Millennials he surveyed said they often feel they don’t make enough money. And more than 3 in 5 are unhappy with some aspect of their current job — either their work/life balance, salary or both.

Overall, 70 percent said they haven’t made as much progress in their careers as they had hoped. “That’s always been inevitable,” says Arnett. “You’re starting at the bottom.”

Where Arnett and I Part Ways

But I have to disagree with Arnett about one of his views based on the poll finding that 66 percent of respondents felt uncertain about navigating personal finances. (My niece, Caitlin Bonney, expressed this sentiment perfectly in a Next Avenue blog she wrote after graduating from the University of Richmond: “As a finance major, I was initially embarrassed to admit [to my aunt] how much I didn’t know about credit cards, renter’s insurance and bank accounts.”)

Arnett says: “You don’t have to panic because at 22 they don’t have a 401(k). That’s the last thing on their minds, honestly. They have more immediate concerns and more immediate needs.”

Maybe so, but I firmly believe it’s the responsibility of parents — and aunts, uncles and grandparents — to push young adults to ramp up their financial smarts and save for their futures. OK, so they can wait to age 23 to start putting money into a 401(k) or a Roth IRA.

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