“We are here to build the house.” — Cheryl Strayed
Millennials have garnered a bad reputation. So much so that the word “millennial”, itself, is often intended as an insult. How one generation has become the target of so much criticism and negativity is a mystery. Millennials are no different than every other generation – trying to build upon the foundation laid down by the generation before while also trying to leave something better for the generation to follow.
Millennials grew up during the birth of technology and learned to adapt to a rapidly changing world. They understand the value of hard work, but also know how new methods and technologies can make a job easier. These are the qualities that make a great employee. So, why are so many employers reluctant to hire them?
It’s fair to say that some industries are embracing the new generation. However, there are still those that aren’t. Millennial engineers, especially, seem to have trouble divorcing themselves from the stereotypes of their generation to successfully collaborate with the generation of engineers that came before. As baby boomers step aside from the workforce and millennials move in, it’s more important than ever that millennial engineers shake those stereotypes so they will be trusted to take the reins in what will hopefully be a seamless, fruitful transition.
Who Are Millennials, Really?
The time span of birth years varies from source to source, but millennials are most often referred to as those born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 24 to 39 in 2020). Even the youngest millennials are now adults and of age to enter the workforce.
My husband and I were born in the late 1980’s – making us both millennials. We went to college, worked hard (hard to believe, right?) and are now productive members of society, working in careers that make us proud of what we do. I work for a process safety consulting business. My husband is a chemical engineer – a good one, who is currently working in a global process safety role. He has great ideas and a passion for what he does. Yet, in the past, he has been met with push back and the “it’s always been that way” argument from the older generation in the workforce who write his ideas off as over enthusiasm from a generation known for their impractical expectations. They’ve struggled to see past his generational affiliation to recognize the true value of his work and ideas. What’s unfortunate is that this seems to be a reality for most millennial engineers working in industry today.
The truth is millennials have a lot to offer. We now make up more of the workforce than any other generation, so it’s more important than ever to debunk the myths, challenge the stereotypes and realize the value of this generation, especially to a field like engineering.
“Millennials are Entitled”
This is probably the most common falsehood stigmatizing our generation. It’s true that some of us might behave as though we feel “entitled,” but so do some boomers and some members of Generation X. There’ll be more who feel that way in the generations that follow. A feeling of entitlement has less to do with what generation you come from and much more to do with your upbringing. If you accuse millennials of being entitled, keep in mind who raised us.
The truth is, we don’t feel we are “owed” more than we have earned in the workplace. We are simply aware that we can be terminated at any time for any number of reasons. The work culture in the United States has changed and we hear horror stories of long-term employees unexpectedly let go without a definitive reason. Millennials have been raised in the era of at-will employment. We’ve had to negotiate benefits (some of my friends don’t have ANY) and accept the fact that many companies are only looking out for their profits, not their people. As a result, we seek to maximize our own value and have developed a defensive strategy when it comes to employment. We feel like we must get what we are able while we have the opportunity to get it.
This is especially true for millennial engineers. Maybe they do want to rule the world, but they want to do so smartly. I’ve never met a recent engineering graduate without a passion for knowledge and growth. They only want to prove that they are worth a company’s investment. They want to be desirable and offered an opportunity to succeed. They want to learn from the generations of engineers that came before them and then develop into leaders for the engineers to follow. Their passion and drive to make a difference makes millennial engineers confident – not entitled. Don’t you want a confident employee?
“Millennials Are Constantly Absorbed in Technology”
This is true to a point, but “absorbed” is an exaggeration. And is it a bad thing? Being invested in technology doesn’t mean we can’t get our noses out of our phones; it means we are connected. We have resources at our fingertips and we make use of them. I don’t watch the news in the mornings, I use my phone to check my news feed. Maybe instead of a paper book, I’m reading one on my screen. Doing things differently doesn’t mean we are doing them wrong.
The older half of our generation grew up before the technology boom. I can still remember a time without the internet and when using the computer in a classroom was a reward to play The Oregon Trail, not a necessity and certainly not a requirement. This makes us resourceful both with and without technology. We’ve experienced technological advancements and know how to design sleeker, more user-friendly interfaces. We understand both the value of hard work and the reward of using technology to accomplish a task more efficiently.
The world is changing. Each day, technology is becoming more and more involved in everyday life. The shift is happening with our clients. In the four years I’ve been employed in the process safety field, I’ve witnessed the chemical industry become more and more reliant on technological advancements to keep their workers even safer. New safety initiatives rely on technology in ways they never have before and it’s the millennial engineers spearheading the majority of these projects because they already have the necessary skills and understanding.
Being absorbed and being connected are very different. Technology continues to advance, and industry will continue to make use of the advancements. If you trust in your younger generations, they can help you succeed.
“Millennials Have No Loyalty to Their Employers”
In an age where debt is high, jobs are competitive and benefits are hard to come by, we have to do what’s best for ourselves and our family. Give us reason to stay. If a lateral jump to a competitor offers better benefits or more opportunities for growth, our crippling student loan debt, or the desire to one day own our own home obligates us to make that move. Loyalty becomes a thing of the past when we can’t afford our family’s health insurance because our current company doesn’t offer a plan. The Boomers are loyal because they can afford to be. They were raised in a different economy. Millennials aren’t in the same position.
Millennials want employers who show appreciation for the work they do with raises, promotions, and opportunities for growth. We want work-life balance and to not be expected to work an 80-hour week for a 40-hour paycheck. There’s no benefit to staying with an employer who doesn’t offer any of these incentives. Millennial engineers, especially, want opportunities for continuing education. They want higher degrees, titles, and certifications – things that will only make them more of an asset to their employer.
Millennials want to be recognized as a long-term investment, not an expense. Be loyal to us and we’ll be loyal to you. Invest in us and we can offer a big return.
Millennials Make Great Engineers
Over the past few years, studies have been conducted on the psychological traits of millennials. The studies weren’t developed with engineering in mind, so many of them overlook the ways in which the millennial psyche reflects the core values of the engineering discipline. The truth is, however, that the traits most attributed to millennials are what make them great engineers. We’re innovative, creative, passionate and analytical. We know how to look outside of the box to solve a problem. We’re efficient (not lazy), we know technology and, thanks to that technology, we’re self-sufficient. We want to succeed.
Can you think of a better formula for an engineer?
In a career where your time is spent inventing, designing, analyzing and building, these traits aren’t just helpful, they’re necessary for world advancements to continue. Millennial engineers are ready to take the lead and they’re well prepared to do so.
Building the House
One of the biggest challenges in the workplace is the communication gap between millennials and baby boomers. This is a gap that can lead to unnecessary stress and high turnover. It doesn’t have to be this way. The gap between generations can be bridged. Each generation brings important context and perspective to the table.
Millennials will comprise 75% of the work force in less than a decade. Let’s work together now and build a better future. Stop shaming us and start encouraging us. Don’t condemn an entire generation based on the actions of a few. We aren’t here to destroy what’s been established. We are here to build the house on the foundation laid by those who came before us.