Tag Archives: underemployment

The One Mistake That Can Cost Millennials

I’m not a teenager, but I’m only six years removed from being one. I can remember that era of my life quite vividly, and I can remember my many mistakes. I also remember that social media was in its’ infancy when I was a teen, so the worries about my mistakes haunting me were minimal compared to what is possible nowadays – not eliminated, but minimal.

But I’m not going to use this piece to discuss the “typical” mistakes we make when we’re young (underage drinking, partying) but rather much more subtle decisions that can have just as much, if not more, of a long term impact.

When I was a freshman in college I knew what career I wanted to pursue and was excited about it – but teens often think they understand everything when they don’t. It turned out that particular career path wasn’t right for me and I was pretty miserable pursuing it. By sophomore year I decided to switch gears and go back to the drawing board to find something I could commit to.

CodeAcademy offers free online courses for those that wish to learn coding languages like HTML, CSS, Ruby, Python, and Javascript.

CodeAcademy offers free online courses for those that wish to learn coding languages like HTML, CSS, Ruby, Python, and Javascript.

I had options, hundreds of options; and looked at all of them. Technical fields like computer science, engineering, and programming were all possibilities but I didn’t seriously consider these. I had had very limited experience writing HTML code in grade school; and of the many skills, and subjects, to concentrate on coding didn’t hold my interest in the slightest. With my very rudimentary HTML experience in mind I didn’t think I would stand a chance in a major that revolved around a skill-set like that. The vision of potential Cs and Ds in computer science danced in my mind, taunting me.

Not to mention I actually had an interest, and some skill, in a bunch of other subjects that kept me engaged: sociology, sustainability, philosophy, political science, history, psychology, urban planning, public policy – all of these, and others, held my attention more than coding.

Well, THAT was a huge mistake, being interested in subjects that aren’t code. Because it’s now years later and programming is the skill-set that employers are demanding. Whoops.

So after six years of full-time studies, and a lot of student debt, I started to look into learning to code while I was winding down my master’s courses. Problem is, it was still not something that interested me all that much. Sure I’d like to build an app, but to get to that stage you need to know Ruby, or Python, or any one of the various coding languages out there (or many of them). HTML and CSS are now considered basic stuff, even in some non-technical fields. And while creating apps would be neat, my interest doesn’t go much beyond cursory glances.

I know I’m not the only one in this position. There have been scattered reports over the past few years of tech companies being unable to fill positions because, supposedly, the applicant pool lacks the necessary skills for the jobs. And there are literally millions of unemployed and underemployed young people looking for rewarding careers. There’s a disconnect.

There are indeed some startups that actually try to teach coding to people without that particular skill-set – I’ve even tried some of the courses out there, but nothing has stuck. I’ve also heard that it can take roughly a year for someone to learn to code up to the level of being employable for that skill. I suppose once again trying these resources is worth pursuing because forget about paid-training, or an in-house development program for people to learn these skills on the job. I haven’t come across many tech companies willing to do that.

So here I am, typing this piece with Code Academy’s introductory Ruby course in the next tab over. This will be yet another attempt to force myself to love coding, but I’m not optimistic things will be much different this time either. But hey, you never know right? We try, we fail, we make mistakes. Here’s to hoping mistakes can be overcome.

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Be Confident in Your Abilities, Even if They Call You Entitled

You’ve probably heard this one before, “millennials think they’re special, but they’re not.” Usually this is followed by “you’re not owed anything.” The veracity of these words could be questioned but why bother. What’s important is that you have to believe you are special in some capacity.

Are you the smartest person in the room? Of course not. Are you a better leader than older and more seasoned professionals? Probably not. Are you more knowledgeable than others at the company you hope to work for? Nope. Are you immediately bringing something new to the table that others at the company haven’t already thought of? Most likely you are not.

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All of these things are true for the most part; but you still do bring something special to the table. Now of course, technically if everyone is special then no one is – kind of defeats the purpose of the word doesn’t it? And any smartass (of any age) will tell you that – believe me it’s all over the internet. But believing you bring something special to the table is what will get you hired. It’s an old cliche but true, you need to be confident. And believing in your abilities comes from believing you’re special in some way.

Here’s why…

Confidence is just a word unless it’s explained. And us millennials require explanations for things, as this post so eloquently points out. So let me briefly explain my conception of confidence. I view confidence as recognizing your own weaknesses, understanding them, coming to terms with them, and even being able to express them. Being vulnerable is being confident – maybe that’s the millennial in me but that’s what we’ve been raised to believe in our culture. But the cruel joke of the professional world it seems is that vulnerability is just plain ole vulnerability. Professionals don’t see that at confident.

There is one way to be confident in the professional world and that is to believe you bring something unique to the table. Whether you’re a businessperson, or a human resource professional, or a writer, or a programmer you must genuinely believe the product, or service, you’re selling is the best out there – otherwise you’re just a fraud. There’s a reason the term fake it to you make it exists. If you do in fact believe your product, or service, is the best out there then you believe it to be special.

Well, in finding work the product you’re selling is yourself – see my pieces about personal branding to get a more detailed picture of my thoughts on that. So you MUST genuinely believe that you are the best candidate out there, which means you must think you’re special, otherwise you’re a fraud.

I’ve literally written over a hundred cover letters in the last ten months. I always grapple with two things: how to stand out, and whether or not I should show confidence through vulnerability.

I know my weaknesses and can express them. I am inexperienced, I’m an introvert so lots of social stimuli and communication overwhelms me, I’m not as strong with data as I probably should be. Despite this I know I can help an organization. I’m knowledgeable, an eager learner, a good writer and trying to get better, loyal to people and things I believe in, and honest when I don’t believe. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it, yet I can figure things out on my own.

If I’m honest about my weaknesses my application goes in the trash – who admits to their weaknesses anyway? Well to me, confident people do, but to professionals that’s not the case.

We’re not deluded, entitled, millennials (despite the title of the blog) because we believe we’re special. We must believe we’re special in order for a company to believe we are too.

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A Boomer Loves Us!

So this is highly unusual, but I am publishing my second article in as many days for the first time in the short history of this blog. Yes, give me a trophy, I’m a millennial after-all. Why am I posting a new piece so quickly you ask? Because I’ve just had one of those moments that every person, every writer, loves – a moment of immense inspiration and hope.

I don’t get this feeling often, it’s a rare thing. And I’m running with this feeling now because writing can sometimes be a slog. It can be tough to remain motivated in this millennial blogging space because so much of what is thrown at us is very negative. It’s my job to remain up-to-date on the latest writing by, for, and about millennials. I wouldn’t be a proper millennial blogger if I didn’t. That includes the pieces published at media outlets that are usually unflattering, and exist just to tell me how lazy and deluded I am, and how no one will ever hire me – you hear that? EVER!

You know how a common unwritten rule in columnist-circles is don’t read the comments. Well reading all of these negative millennial pieces that are published every few months, or weeks, online is basically the same as reading the comments. You try to not let it get to you but overtime it does, because there is so much of it. It’s like a wall of propaganda trying to convince us how worthless we really are. Easy to brush off once, twice, ten times – but eventually it eats at you a bit.

That’s on top of the daily mental grind of trying to find work. Sometimes after writing the 6th or 7th personalized cover letter of the day, in which every detail is self-scrutinized over and over, writing a new piece for the ole blog is the last thing I want to do. But blogging is part of the process of finding work, so reading the negativity comes with the territory. 

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Millennials want to work with boomers that are interested in problem solving. We’re not interested in lectures about how lazy you think we are.

This brings me to the reason I’m so ecstatic at this very moment. Out there, in the ether, there is a baby boomer that loves us. Out there, somewhere, there is a boomer that gets it. And today I found him, his name is Cary Tennis. For those unfamiliar with his work, Cary is the advice columnist for Salon. I’m not the type to read advice columns but I often find myself on Cary’s because his answers always seem to connect to larger issues at play.

And today he did not disappoint with his answer to a distraught reader. As an aside, Millennials, Unite! – the headline of today’s column reminds me of the Bob Marley classic Africa Unite, also inspirational and arguing the same point, albeit for a completely different issue – organize organize organize.

The question Cary responds to, in part, reads:

Lately I have spent more and more time asleep, and I know this isn’t normal. I do it because it is far better to be asleep and unaware of my failures and fears, than to be reading how I am not good enough for people to pay me even poverty wages.
I have a wonderful family and they are supportive. But I am also 30, and feel I was lied to my whole life when I was told from childhood, “Go to school, work hard, get the best grades — and a great job will be waiting for you.”

Cary’s response to this millennial – who I empathize with to a great degree – is very empathetic itself. It’s practical, really cuts through all the crap, and gets to the bottom line. It’s brilliant. I obviously won’t post the entire response (go read it for yourself. No really, do it. I’ll wait. I’ll even include another link.)

Back? These are the highlights of Cary’s response:

It begins with the statement of a mass grievance: You were sold a bill of goods. You were lied to. You were swindled. There are millions like you. Why are they not in the streets? If they were, things would be different. There is a political and historical context for this.
Your condition is not unique; it is general. You are part of a class of people to whom this has happened. As such, you have political power.

And a few paragraphs later…

It’s as simple as that. So if you do not demonstrate by the hundreds of thousands, if you do not disrupt markets and streets, if you do not unite with other millennials and refine your message so that it reaches the people who need to be reached, then you will have been robbed and you will have done nothing about it.

When I read this I was sort of shocked. A boomer that’s actually not calling us lazy, entitled, spoiled, idiotic, high-expectation having, deluded, fools? This can’t be real, I must have fallen through some trans-dimensional portal to a world where people actually empathize with other people, and generally try not to be jerks.

Further, here’s a boomer that’s actually trying to help us solve a real problem instead of jumping on a high horse and castigating us for “not taking personal responsibility.” The questioner openly admits to sleeping more and more, most likely a sign of depression – full disclosure I’m not a doctor. Instead of shouting down at the person for being “lazy,” Cary genuinely wants them to get help for their issue. And he implores them to find free resources for that help – no snark, no judgement needed.

Want to know the quickest way to have someone shrink from the world and never find a solution to their problem? Tell them they’re worthless by listing all they do wrong. Cary never does that. Yet he still challenges the reader, and challenges every millennial in the same boat as that reader, to do the only thing that’s really left to do – form a coalition and demand changes.

In a larger sense this does two things, it changes the status quo through politics and policy, and it always ends up employing a large amount of people for the movement. If you have nothing else to do because you can’t find a full-time job, organizing is a full-time opportunity that provides many of the same benefits – networking, organizational skills, logistical skills, discipline, people skills, and more. If you are indeed lucky enough to get paid for organizing the pay probably won’t be good, rarely is it good. But you may end up making the same amount of money as you would working part-time as a barista. And you’ll gain work and life experience that would presumably payoff down the road.

Networking is probably the greatest benefit because individuals within a movement will start their own businesses, employ others in the movement, partner with others, connect their peers to other resources and opportunities. Organizing is both a means to an end (how we typically think about it), but also an end in itself. There are probably dozens of start-ups that were founded from the dust of the Occupy Movement, probably thousands of friendships and partnerships forged in the heat of that nonviolent battle.

Creating a sustainable millennial movement together is a solution to many of the personal problems millions of young people face. There are too many people like that reader, too many people like myself, too many unemployed, too many underemployed, too many stuck living with their parents, too many grinding, too many without opportunity, too many suffocating under the weight of student loans. There are too many of us out there, but just enough for a movement.

So we need more writers like Cary that support us. We need more boomers that love us.

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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 Specific Reason Networks are More Important than Job Boards

We’ve all heard the tips and career advice for job candidates out there. There is no shortage of information for how to conduct a successful job search and application process; it’s an entire industry. I’ve read my fair share of them and taken some of the information to heart, but so much of it is contradictory or common sense, and it all can be fatiguing. What’s consistent in all these advice columns, and Top-10 lists, and Today show segments is that networking is the most important factor in finding a job. I mean this as a positive, but not normative statement.Image

Treating all of that as a given, I’m more interested in examining why this is the case and if this is actually a healthy way of job hunting for both employers and job candidates alike. What is the factor that makes networking more important than job board applications? Skepticism.

Employers who meet people through their networks are less skeptical and thus more open to hiring those they have some familiarity with. Employers who find job candidates through job boards are inherently skeptical of candidates. We can all empathize with this pretty natural skepticism because many positions receive hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of applications. Job boards are intrinsically impersonal, and even if an application makes it through the automated software and to a hiring managers’ desk, there is a degree of scrutiny each application receives that doesn’t exist when meeting potential candidates personally. The impersonal application process reverses the steps in the process. Instead of apply – personal meeting/interview – offer. The networking process is personal meeting/interview – apply – offer. An inherent disadvantage to the non-networker.

The bar is higher for the non-networker than the networker, and everyone knows this. Thus the interview environment is going to be much more intimidating to non-networkers. There is more to prove, more uncertainty, and everyone’s guard is up. So, there are two things we must contend with, we need to recognize that this is a problem, and we must figure out a solution.

The piece Networking Hurts Our Workforce echoes the problem of continuing to use networking as the primary driver of finding talent.

“To the detriment of productivity, networking has become the focal point of the hiring process. Millennials are continually encouraged to earn a college education, pursue an advanced degree, and even work unpaid internships in hopes to secure future employment. After acing exams and volunteering to gain experience, Generation Y struggles with the new, vague career advice of “just network.”

It’s incredibly unbalanced and unproductive to employers, and the country as a whole, that one group of jobseekers faces more skepticism than another. So what’s the solution to this problem? Social networking of course. Now this is not a magic bullet to solve everything, and many organizations completely miss the point of social networking altogether.

Social networking is not used my most HR departments and organizations to recruit individuals and this needs to change as there are a lot of opportunities in this space that don’t exist in the real world. Creating topics for potential candidates to discuss with HR staff about the organization on Facebook or Twitter can help identify those that are truly interested in the organization and their knowledge. Seeking creative applications through Pinterest or Instagram could be a way of recruiting. Any tool is only as good as the people behind it. Not using the resources of free social networks damages the potential of organizations and keeps young people, who are not part of vast networks, from jobs they are qualified for.

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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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STEMs vs. THRUs: The Sequel

A few posts ago I discussed the idea that there is a mini-war brewing between the STEM community and the rest of us. Lets call THe Rest of Us THRUs instead, because we all love a clever acronym. This topic kind of hits a nerve for me, as I’m the classic “I suck at math” type of student/person. From preK-12 I went to a school that emphasized liberal arts. Technically it emphasized all subjects, but in reality it was a liberal arts college shrunk down to a high school size.

It would be completely appropriate to say I managed to barely get through algebra II in high school. I think the kneejerk reaction to admitting to something as “heinous” as this is to say I was lazy. Sure, if that floats your boat, I was a lazy math student. It’s not a subject I ever connected with, or particularly enjoyed. Having said that, I consider myself someone who loves and respects the scientific process, and thus STEM fields appeal to me in theory, just not in practice. And, as anyone will tell you, the basis of many STEM fields lies in mathematics. If you can’t do multivariate calculus by the time you graduate college you’re probably going to fail in these fields. – Yes, that is in fact, hyperbole.

Having said all of that, just because I was a “lazy” math student, does not make me a lazy student overall. I repeat, just because I do not have the patience, or natural ability, to do math, does not mean I don’t have a tremendous interest in other subjects. The social sciences and liberal arts always interested me, and thus I pursued those subjects in college. And I got what I needed out of college, I became more aware of the world, more aware of the intellectual and historical foundations of the world we live in. This would not be possible without pursuing social science (political science) and liberal arts (philosophy) degrees. If you want to earn a law degree, the best way to prepare is by studying logic, which is a philosophical exercise. If you want to understand public opinion, international relations, and politics the best way to prepare is by studying political science. If you want to know how government actually works the best way to prepare is by studying public administration and policy. 

None of the aforementioned subjects is the concentration of STEM degrees, and that’s fine. I’m friends with many STEM students, and many have the historical and philosophical background that is necessary to being a well rounded adult. My annoyance is not with these students, who are just pursuing their own interests; but rather, with the new political, social, and business environment we’re in. An environment that is so unimaginative they can’t see how, or why, liberal arts and social sciences remain important and why they’ll still be needed in the future.

What I think many STEM advocates fail to recognize is that THRU fields have a deep understanding of the world we live in. We think critically about problems in society, we identify previously unknown problems, and we find solutions to these problems. My fear is that as we emphasize STEM fields, we are losing track of why THRU fields are so critical to building a mature society.

It is necessary to repeat the point that I do not begrudge STEM students for having a marketable skill. I’m actually just as excited as everyone else in the new concentration on STEM fields, especially in early education. I even raved about the initiative Made in NY, which is mostly a STEM initiative, in my last post. Our country will in fact need people in these fields. My overall point is that just because something is currently marketable does not mean it renders our social sciences and liberal arts useless; and in all this excitement about STEMs lets not lose track of that.

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Millennials and Startup Culture

In an earlier post I argued that the political system is so dysfunctional at the federal level, that the likelihood of ever getting a second stimulus to spur job growth and promote youth employment was next to zero. I don’t believe this is a good thing, I believe the country desperately needs another stimulus, but alas, this is but a dream. In that post I also discussed how I do not think big business can be relied upon to help reduce youth unemployment and underemployment as there is no short-term profit-motive for them.

The conclusion I came to is that the only way to address the massive youth unemployment and underemployment problem is for Millennials to take it upon themselves to help each other out. And to help each other out we need to be starting businesses and hiring each other. To be quite honest, I believe older workers have a tremendous leg-up in the traditional market, many of those that are unemployed have years of work experience. On top of that, from all those years of work many older workers have forged relationships and connections with dozens, or hundreds, of people. They have some sort of network to turn to.

So where does that leave us, the Millennials? Well, as in previous recessions, entrepreneurship tends to increase in downturns as workers can’t find traditional jobs, so they decide to make their own jobs. The great recession was particularly ugly because big business and financial institutions held onto their cash, so the flow of cash for investments ground to a halt. Entrepreneurship simply wasn’t possible because no one was lending for many years. The first stimulus was crucial because it provided a replacement stream of cash for businesses and startups to continue to innovate and hire. While we’re still crawling our way out of the depths of the recession, I think an attitude of hope is emerging amongst Millennials because capital has started moving again.

This brings me to the just-announced Made in NY campaign, a portal for startups and job seekers to connect, while also being a resource-well for businesses. The program is mostly concentrated on tech startups, but there are opportunities for non-STEM individuals as well. The portal features a jobs map of NYC, with over a thousand opportunities at startups. It also features resources for starting your own business, or if you want to learn STEM skills there are even free courses offered throughout the city.

It’s opportunities like these that give me hope for solving the problem of youth unemployment and underemployment. The work will be our own; afterall, starting a business is no picnic, but we all need a bit of guidance and opportunity to realize the dream of starting a business. This specific campaign offers that guidance and opportunity for young entrepreneurs.

My one caveat to this idea that we should all start businesses is that statistically speaking, most businesses fail within the first few years. But I believe that with a platform and environment like Made in NY, that failure doesn’t have to mean complete failure. I think there is a community of young entrepreneurs that is bubbling, and that means, in a practical sense, Millennials will be there for each other when the going gets rough. For example, lets say your business fails within the first few months, I believe that the community of entrepreneurs (see – most likely your former competition) will probably recognize and reward your ambition, execution, and drive to start a business. It seems only natural that failed entrepreneurs could find opportunities at former competition. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, it probably is, but at the very least it is something to put on a resume when applying to traditional jobs. Think about it, I may have limited experience, but if I can list on my resume that I founded my own company, I’ve got to believe that stands out to employers.

Millennials are a restless bunch, we want to have a significant impact on our world, that’s been ingrained within us through positive reinforcement since birth. Our elders can hold this against us and view this entitlement as unearned, or they can guide us in the process of starting our own businesses. The Made in NY initiative is as much a product of Millennials working together to help each other, as it is a way for our elders to guide us into the idea of taking control of what we can. We know of public-private partnerships, well, initiatives like this are Millennial-Boomer partnerships and these are most likely the vehicles through which we will solve our youth unemployment problem.

Agree, disagree? Have you founded a startup? Do you want to? Leave your comments and let me know your stories. We’re in this together!

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