Tag Archives: millennial

March on Washington – 50 Years Later

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the legendary 250,000+ strong March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The reason the march is remembered, and so revered, is of course because of Martin Luther King Jr’s speech. This speech, one of, if not the greatest, speech of the 20th century is part of the American lexicon – at least parts of it are. But in the fifty years since that speech we have done a poor job internalizing the major messages of, not only King’s speech, but the march as a whole.

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I’ve heard estimates of 200,000 to as high as 300,000 people

We primarily focus on the rhetorical message of freedom, but rhetoric without action means nothing. And while the civil rights generation accomplished things that were once thought impossible, the work they dedicated their lives to remains incomplete. While that generation secured our civil liberties (despite some recent attempts to roll them back), the goal of economic justice has remained frustratingly out of reach. How are we to view the progress of advancing freedom when economic justice is anything but?

The reason the march was for jobs and freedom is because the two were linked by the civil rights movement leaders. These leaders understood that good jobs, with decent wages, in a capitalist society like ours, is inextricably linked to freedom. After-all, what’s freedom without autonomy? What’s freedom without opportunity? What’s freedom without the ability to earn a living? What’s freedom without equal treatment?

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The 10 demands made by participants of the March on Washington

Fifty years later though, how can a new generation take the mantle of the civil rights generation and fulfill the mission to advance jobs and freedom? Given our current economic condition we need to re-link the need for jobs with freedom. Black unemployment/underemployment is not just an African-American problem, youth unemployment/underemployment is not just a young-person problem. These are national problems that inhibit all our ability to be free.

Charles Blow wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed piece today that:

“There is a vacuum in the American body politic waiting to be filled by a young person of vision and courage, one not suckled to sleep by reality television and social media monotony.”

While that could be taken as an insult to my generation, something we’re used to in mainstream culture at this point, I view it as a challenge. A challenge to young people to not only “be our own heroes,” as is so often said nowadays; but also to recognize, and accept, leadership when we see it.

There is something very – millennial – about our generation not having a singular leader that we all look up to. We have dozens, hundreds, of different thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and artists but there is no central figure in the activist space that has galvanized all of us as Martin Luther King Jr. did fifty years ago.

Granted, MLK’s importance in American history wasn’t understood (and accepted) by all until the 1990s. In his time he was clearly an important leader, but he was one of many black leaders. It’s in the decades since his death that he has become a symbol for the entire movement. Who, of my generation, is emerging as a leader that can push the political system into action from outside the system?

Common, modern, wisdom holds that we don’t need central figures. Look at how the Occupy Movement organized themselves, no leader, just people. Dissertations could be written, and probably have, about the structure and leadership (or lacktherof) of Occupy. Going without central figures is fine, for awhile, but I’m not sure how long movements can maintain their momentum without singular figures to unify around at some point.

Those times when movements are threatened with petering out, splintering, imploding under the weight of their own expectations, and internal strife. Those times when competing egos bicker, when outside forces attempt to sow discontent, when despair and apathy start to take root. In those times, when it’s so easy for those in a movement to give up, say it’s too hard (and who could blame them), often a central figure is just what the movement needs to keep on pushing. This is, perhaps, what lead to Occupy largely dissipating. And it’s perhaps why we don’t have a mass, activist-lead, movement to reduce income inequality and stamp out unemployment among all communities.

I have heard many say that protesting is dead – The days of marching are over – Civil disobedience is no longer effective. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. What I think our generation lacks is leadership that can dramatize the problems of unemployment, and underemployment, as the great civil rights leaders did so many years ago. What I think our generation lacks is the understanding that economic opportunity and freedom go hand in hand in our country. One does not exist without the other. Perhaps, it will be my generation that solves the growing problem of income inequality among classes, and the persistently stubborn inequality among races.

The seeds are there for a mass movement. I just don’t think the leader yet exists that can sow those seeds of mass, non-violent, sustained, activism in our time – for our generation. I hope she, or he, emerges soon.

We too often look at major historical events with the distant lens a textbook forces us to view them through. We too often view ourselves as the end of history instead of as a part of it. As the culmination of all that has come before us, instead of as a growing foundation for all that has yet to come. Are we going to be a generation that continues to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice? Or do we really think Liking the Moral Arc of the Universe on Facebook will do?

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The Smartest Generation

There have been a host of great pieces written about Millennials in major outlets as of late; and reading these have provided some confirmation bias on an argument I’ve briefly touched on in previous posts. Namely that Millennials are the smartest generation. I believe every generation has an aura that symbolizes it, especially after history has cast its’ judgement.Image

We have the greatest generation which endured unprecedented economic distress and fought heroically in the deadliest war in humankind’s history. We have the Boomers who were the driving force behind civil rights, ending the war in Vietnam, and growing the American economy. And we have Gen Xers, who often get a bad rap as the “lost generation,” but who are largely responsible for truly realizing many of the ideals of the civil rights era. Gen Xers are the generation that embodies critical thinking, as they are skeptical of authority and seek alternative opinions.

Now, of course these are all generalizations, this is not a science. Normally I would say that should go without saying, but disclaimers seem necessary in this day and age. Having said all that, I believe history will look back on millennials as the smartest generation. This actually seems fairly obvious if you think of it this way; each generation builds upon the knowledge of every previous generation. As time goes on the knowledge base grows; we must know more about the world because more information exists in the past than previous generations had access to. Add to that the exponential growth of technology and the growing expectation that millennials should at least possess some background in programming; well, we end up with some pretty high expectations of a knowledge base for young people.

A few years ago the aggregate student debt in this country surpassed the aggregate credit card debt for the first time. Debates were had about whether this was “good debt” or not, whether we’re setting young people up for financial trouble, and whether college is even necessary for many young Americans. What was lost in this debate is the fact that young people have pursued higher education at record numbers, and during the recent economic downturn many students went on to pursue advanced degrees instead of entering the job market right after college, I being one of those people. What was lost in this debate is that we’re producing a highly educated generation that will lead the country for the next four decades.

Personally, my decision to pursue an advance degree was a calculated risk. I had seen the studies that concluded that those entering the job market in tough economic times tend to always lag behind their peers in earnings potential. Over time the added student debt I would rack up furthering my own education would more than pay for itself by the extra income I’d earn throughout my life. I still think it was a solid economic choice, despite being further indebted. The benefit of this choice for me, and the thousands of fellow young people who made this choice, is expanding our knowledge base beyond the four year college experience.

I learned a lot during my college years, especially in my last two years of undergrad. And as much as I learned during those years, I’ve learned even more during my two years of graduate studies. Despite it being a tough job market right now, I believe that pursuing higher education and advanced degrees will be beneficial in the long run. And that attitude is shared by a significant number of my fellow millennials.

As I discussed in my inaugural blog post, this is a generation that has grown up being told that education is the most important attribute for future success. Beyond that, we’re a group that enjoys learning, and many young people pursue job opportunities that provide for lifelong learning and professional growth. A fellow blogger briefly discusses her own experience pursuing educational experiences on the job.

While the education system has not worked for every millennial, and there are plenty of young people who have not had the educational opportunities that some of us have had. Overall we’re more educated, more informed, more knowledgeable, and more willing to learn than previous generations. I believe this is what we’ll be remembered for, not as the “entitled generation.”

 

Do you consider yourself part of the smartest generation? Do you agree or disagree with my characterization of millennials as being the smartest generation? What are your views on education and the unprecedented levels of student debt? Do you think your student debt was worth the education you received? TYPE your comments and SHARE this post.

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Experience Requirements Are Silly

In a short piece from last month, a fellow millennial wrote about the conundrum many of us find ourselves in. It’s a truth you’ll probably hear from the mouths of twenty-somethings across the country:

“I can’t find a job because I don’t have experience, and I don’t have experience because I can’t find a job.”

While I’ve agreed with this sentiment in the past, the first time I heard it expressed so succinctly was in another blog post about a year ago. It struck such a nerve with me that I’ve adopted it as a mantra. It’s become a sort of battle cry for young people who are frustrated with this economy, and perhaps more importantly, frustrated with the hiring process in general.
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Over the past three months I’ve applied to dozens of jobs and internships, all of which are positions in organizations I believe I could happily contribute to. But there are dozens of other positions I haven’t applied to for one specific reason, experience requirements. Now, I understand the gamesmanship that comes with writing qualification requirements, they weed out potential applicants before they even send in applications; it’s a process of self-selection – “I know I don’t have 5 years of experience so why even bother sending an application?” Fair enough. It’s probably quite efficient for employers to do this, but with efficiency, comes missed opportunity.

The problem is that this self selection process is completely broken. Employers are posting experience requirements for positions that most college graduates have the ability to do. Do I really need 5 years (five years!) experience to be a research associate, or a communications associate, or a marketing specialist, or a writer, or a social media manager? As Seth Myers would say – really, I mean, really!?

This is madness, it’s inane, and it’s contributing to this problem of youth unemployment and underemployment. Some organizations have begun to address this problem and have reformed their hiring processes. Gawker values inexperience, other organizations have implemented training programs that are full-time paid internship positions where successful completion of the program seamlessly transitions to permanent employment. They act as a sort of residency program for non-medical professional degree holders. And still others have all but abandoned the traditional hiring processes in favor of social media interactions/applications.

Now, this is not to say that experience requirements are unneeded, for certain positions professional experience does matter. But I’d argue that a large chunk of positions out there can be successfully filled by graduates with limited experience; and that organizations are overvaluing experience as a barometer of future success. What’s more important, experience or organizational fit? Experience or ability? Experience or passion? Experience or creativity? I think it’s clear that many of the most successful modern organizations run on the creativity, initiative, and passion of young people. I just hope that as these companies grow they don’t lose sight of the formula that made them successful.

Despite the experience conundrum, I’m fairly optimistic that a paradigm shift in the hiring process has begun and will continue. As millennials are beginning to flood organizations across the country, attitudes and practices are changing for the better. Millennials who are already in positions of influence have empathy for their peers; and that empathy can go along way in not only improving the jobs prospects of the unemployed and underemployed, but also in improving the prospects of organizations that may be stagnant.

The question employers must ask themselves is whether they are going to be vanguards of the traditional hiring process, or innovators and leaders of the country we want to see.

If you’re an employer what are your thoughts on young prospective employees? If you’re a millennial, are you frustrated by the experience requirements? Type your thoughts in the comment section, and share this post with friends.

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Should We Rethink KSA?

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Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) is the three pronged approach to evaluating job prospects; at least this is a standard in government. We ask employees what they know, what they are capable of doing, and if they have the skills to execute.

I have no personal problem with this conceptualization of how to find workers; it’s straight forward, easy to understand, and a fair evaluation technique. I believe the disconnect between my generation and the current batch of employers (mostly made up of Boomers and Gen Xers) is that while Millennials are probably the most knowledgeable generation, the perception is that we lack skills.

I’m going to explain why I believe employers should re-evaluate how they are weighing these three concepts. But first I must explain my working definitions of these terms.

Knowledge
I don’t think it’s all that disputable that we’re an extremely knowledgeable bunch, Millennials have grown up in the information age afterall. We are bombarded by information constantly; and not only that, but we’ve pursued higher education in record numbers to learn how to sift through this information and make sense of it. We’re intellectually curious, which is a gift and a curse. To me the level of intellectual curiosity someone has is incredibly important. This attribute tells me that a person cares about the world around them, that they respect the process of learning, that they think before they leap, and that they have varied interests. To me, having varied interests is more of a strength than a weakness, but it appears that for many employers there is an extreme distaste for the jack of all trades, master of none. I personally like to say that I’m a jack of all trades, master of one since I’ve almost completed my Master’s degree.

In the professional world, knowledge will only get you so far. And the “jack of all trades” mentality is frowned upon. I argue employers don’t really care about this first prong of the evaluation process of job candidates. That is why educational experience is not as highly regarded as it once was. Knowledge is not sufficient, and in some cases, not even necessary.

Skills
This seems to be the single most important attribute employers look for in job candidates. That’s fine on its’ face, of course employers want to hire a skilled person. The problem is that many of the skills employers want nowadays are in very specific areas – see STEM fields. It’s not that Millennials lack skills, it’s that many of us lack STEM skills. Some have called this a failure of our education system, and to a certain extent that’s true. We do lag behind other industrialized nations in math and science, fair enough. But this is also a failure of businesses of not being clear in what types of skills they want, and not being open to other skills prospective employees can bring.

Abilities
This third and final prong of the evaluation of prospective employees I view as the middle ground between Millennials and employers. If Millennials and businesses were in a negotiating room and Millennials argued that knowledge was the most important attribute of being a successful employee (as I argued above), and businesses argued that skills were the most important, then abilities would be the negotiated happy medium between the two sides.

Abilities are things a prospective employee is capable of doing to help the business/organization succeed. Abilities are less tangible than knowledge or skills; they are hard to measure because they are based on potential, not demonstrable results. For example, I have the ability to fly a jet, meaning the potential to learn and execute, but I possess neither the knowledge nor skills to do so at this moment. A more relevant example: I have the ability to oversee a project from the conceptual phase to its’ conclusion, but I don’t currently possess the experience to prove I can do this.

If you’re going into a white collar career, you most likely possess certain abilities that are useful in the workplace just from years upon years of experience of collaborating with peers in higher education. Presumably most people that apply for white collar work know how to communicate effectively in writing, in person, or over the phone. These are abilities, not skills, as these don’t take formal and intense training to learn, they are just cues and capabilities we acquire along the way. Certain types of writing does, in fact, require training to perfect, but writing is more of an ability in my view.

Things like project management I also view as an ability, not a skill. For example, I have the ability to manage projects, even multiply projects, but I lack experience in doing so in a professional environment. I would have to learn some of the nuances of the job but I certainly possess the ability to do the job.

To me, we gain abilities to move into multiple professional roles through the process of education many of us have gone through. We don’t go to school from kindergarten through college/graduate school without picking up on abilities needed in the professional world that lie outside of our formal education.

Do you agree that we need to rethink KSAs in how job candidates are chosen? Which aspect of the three pronged approached should be emphasized the most? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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I’m a Millennial, I’m Unemployed, and I am Entitled

For the past fifteen years, my generation has been surveyed and observed, our attitudes and beliefs dissected and analysed, and our character both questioned and praised. Dozens of books have been written about us, hundreds of articles published, and entire nightly news segments devoted to trying to unlock the mysteries of the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. Every possible descriptor has been attached to Millennials. We are the technologically savvy generation, yet the distracted. We are the multi-taskers, yet the unfocused. We are the social generation, yet more isolated. Highly educated, but lack skills. Independent minded, yet coddled and entitled.

Entitled, this description always stuck out because it’s a sort of parasitic pejorative that’s latched onto twenty-somethings, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy saps the energy out of its’ host and offers nothing in return. The term has been brandished and utilized like a knife by the media, by angry parents who have their adult children living back home, and even by some academics. You can almost hear the glee in the voices of older folks that use it, patting themselves on the back for being model citizens in their youth and stewards of a traditional America where 9 to 5 was a religion. ‘They didn’t expect things to be easy, they paid their dues like everyone else, they never felt entitled!’

Entitled. Entitlements. These are some of the ugliest terms in America; a way of segregating the hard workers from the lazy mooches. If you’re labeled entitled, you might as well kiss any respect you may of had out the window. One may think there is no escaping the term, that twenty-somethings are destined to become labeled “the entitled generation” in the history books; but a funny thing has been happening over the past few years, Millennials are now writing their own narratives and telling their own stories. Gone are the days of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers telling our story for us in the op-ed section of a newspaper, the pages of a journal, or a well produced television show. We’re invading your newsrooms, your businesses, bureaucracies, non-profits, and we will be shaping your opinions for the next four decades and as such it’s time to flip the script on what being entitled means, it’s time to embrace it as both an apt and a positive descriptor of Millennials.

(Some) Millennials like myself feel entitled to things like careers that fulfill us, work/life balance, and jobs where we feel like we’re actually contributing, not because we refuse to work but because we have already earned some of these “benefits.” We are overwhelmingly the most educated generation in American history. While it’s important to note that not every millennial has had the opportunity to attend college or even graduate high school, the efforts that previous generations put in to give opportunity to a more diverse swath of the American population has paid off and more and more Americans of my generation have seized that opportunity and run with it.

We grew up hearing that education was the most important thing, that if we worked hard in school from a very young age through college that we’d have access to the American dream. Many of us come from great primary schools (many of us don’t), and many of us have gone to college, earned multiple degrees, and even gone on to graduate school, completing these degrees at younger and younger ages. Most millennials, whether a college student or not, have held multiple jobs. Millennials may very well be the most hardworking and accomplished generation before the age of 30 than any previous generation. What does this hard work get in return? Derision and snark by our elders, our work is never enough. Yes we have been given great opportunity, but with that opportunity we’ve been given great expectations from a young age and we’re under constant pressure to not only match but surpass these expectations. It’s not enough to go to college, one must earn an engineering or finance degree. It’s not enough to have one internship, we must have several.

For the hard work we’ve already put in we are entitled to certain aspects of the American dream, we’re entitled to good jobs with livable wages. We are willing to give up salary for greater flexibility in managing our time between work and our personal lives, and we’re entitled to having our voices respected. We’ve lived up to our expectations thus far, it’s time for the expectations we have of our country to be met. The feeling of entitlement is the natural end result after years of doing our best. True that in the real world, there are no prizes for just trying, but we’re not looking for a trophy, we’re looking for jobs.

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