There’s a lot of negative talk from my generation (Gen x and Boomers) about millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and early 1990’s) being narcissistic, self-serving, unrealistic in expectations, cloistered and lazy. Or was that just what I was shouting through my son’s bedroom door last night?

The first semester is underway and students are back on campus.  One thing I’ve observed is the sheer number that are involved in clubs and voluntary organisations.  During Orientation, a workshop put on by the Victoria University Students Association (VUWSA) called Get Involved had new students queuing to get in.  Then, at a Meet the Clubs night I was blown away at how passionate and focussed club or organisation leaders were.  They knew exactly what they were doing and why. My student years are a dim ’80s flashback (cue Madonna’s Holiday), but I never recall being so, well, employable.

Which makes me wonder about perceptions such as these, from managers who responded to a survey reported by about the perceived weaknesses of millennial workers. For a survey of 523 hiring managers:

  • 54 percent feel millennials lack the ability to receive criticism.
  • 51 percent perceive millennials as impatient with established processes.
  • 35 percent perceive millennials as ineffective communicators.

Employers have told us in the 2015 Employment Skills Survey that the top ten attributes they need are:

  1. Work ethic
  2. Verbal communication skills
  3. Energy and enthusiasm
  4. Analytical and critical thinking
  5. Problem solving
  6. Team work
  7. Interpersonal skills
  8. Written communication skills
  9. Self-management
  10. Initiative and enterprise

Based on what I’ve seen and experienced working with much younger people the past few years, I think there’s a lot to be said for older employers (like me) trying to understand more about where the future workforce is coming from. If I was going to generalise a generation, I’d say millenials were:

  • enthusiastic, but it has to happen now
  • focused on outcomes and into “fast-failure”…if something hasn’t worked, move on to a new idea
  • altruistic, but pragmatic
  • collaborative and constantly connected
  • raised in a “boundary-less” world with rapid change and fast turn-around
  • more inclined to value ethics and spirituality/well-being over morality or dogma
  • more into innovation and quality than established processes and rules
  • able to work while lying down with laptop, bag of Doritos and headphones with Kendrick Lamar full volume.

This 2011 report from PwC: Millennials at Work, is still current as it talks about the needs of younger workers being around technology, flexibility and mobility.

Maybe they have or are developing all of the attributes on that list, but they are in a different order.  So how can we do now to close any gaps in perceptions between different generations? It’s a big ask, but at Victoria we’re doing our bit.

If you are a student, make the most of programmes such as Victoria Plus or the Victoria International Leadership Programme (VILP) to channel that passion and enthusiasm and tangibly demonstrate your amazing skills and develop those ones that are sought in today’s workplace.  Nothing proves work ethic, communication and energy and enthusiasm more than volunteering in areas that interest and challenge you and complement your studies.

As more and more millennials become employers themselves they are likely to impact on employment patterns and perceptions of employability. For employers, participating in graduate recruitment programmes is a great way to hear it from the horse’s mouth what graduates can offer.  They ask some really challenging questions that make you sit up and think!  Also, Alumni as Mentors is a great way for any employers and students, be they millennial, Gen X or Boomer to connect, better understand and learn from one another.

And that’s another thing: since I’ve been on campus, I haven’t seen one single selfie camera.

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