Have Millennials been short changed?

There appears a real disconnect between Millennials and their predecessors in how they actually connect with society. Is it real or just a bias?

It happened I was reading a book on product branding. The particular chapter had a reference to the effect: young people are less connected than they were 10, 20 and definitely 30 years ago. This seemed strange to me with everyone “plugged in.” As I read on, I wondered how is it that people could be so ubiquitously connected and yet be so disconnected. Then I asked myself could it be a result that now with Facebook and Twitter where there is no such thing as privacy and everything is gossip? Expanding that line of thought: does a person feel connected by sharing secrets or by keeping them? Is it a matter of trust? If ‘yes’, then, is trust something which can be taught?

The very next day there was an NPR program focused on how untrusting the youth of America is. According to the report, the Pew Research Center published a study recently; only 19% of millennial adults say that, generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Every other generation tops 30%. This didn’t make sense to me because I see youth making what are for me, questionable decisions for something that can only be called ethereal social homogeneity.

As a boomer, both these stories seemed to go against my observational conclusions, what I see is counter-intuitive to what they were saying. When things don’t make sense to me, it’s time for me to do some research.

The first relevant finding was a statistical survey ( tinyurl.com/n8fhd97 ) that asked questions related to how many ‘trusted friends are you connected with’ and the average number of friends for the periods 1980 and 2008 may have increased, at least when you count ‘friends’ on Facebook, phone-books and Twitter, since 1980. The statistical number of trusted friends people had was cut by two thirds in just over two decades. So, if someone had, say nine people trusted in 1980, today that number is 3 for this generation. That is significant!

You might be wondering what this has to do with employment or job hunting. I believe it is highly relevant because at work, trust is a major ingredient of team building. When you can’t trust your coworkers, supervisor or subordinate, the company has a problem whether they are aware or not. But trust as a topic will be addressed in a later blog.

The second research was from a well referenced article on The New York Times. ( tinyurl.com/ldgtdjd ) It concluded that young people feel like they were sold a bill of goods on economic reality, higher education, personal empowerment and self-actualization.

Even one as cynical as myself can believe that.

Not everyone should go to college and carry the burden of an education for education’s sake. I would bet you know some fools with degrees. If yes you know, having a degree didn’t prevent them from being fools.

Personal note: As a father of two there are some things I know. For one, some people need a respite between high school and college. Some need a couple years. Others shouldn’t ever go to college. In turn, college should make a path for those who take a break in their education and allow more mature students in as full time students. Perhaps a 10% or 15% enrollment window. It seems that contiguity in education is a fallacy which would explain why there is such a significant drop-out rate, and worse, an extended graduation time of five or six years to complete a four year degree.

Other things I began to consider include what we teach in high school. I am so disappointed that primary education does not teach the management of credit, personal finance, personal ethics, responsibility and a myriad of skills we need to manage our lives. Issues like how to buy a house, the largest investment most people will ever make, is ignored in preference for the artistic style of “The Great Gatsby.”

My education included the memorization of a bunch of Generals’ military conquests of the civil war. I am not discounting the Generals or the sacrifices the soldiers made. But honestly, I never needed to know which Generals fought in the war of 1812 after some test in High School. Not even once; never on a job interview or to perform a job task. It was somewhat interesting but totally irrelevant to my life. I suppose that because my parental generation did it to me I must therefore do it to my children who will, in turn, do it to my grandchildren? Not good logic here.

Purchasing capital items however like cars, leasing, renting, buying, how to buy clothes, (especially for a man) and food preparation along with the value of some foods over others is ignored. Life and lifestyle, such as health, pivot on some of these issues.   Perhaps we should consider teaching how to manage our emotions. In the case of EmployThis Sanctuary we provide a safe space for dealing with the emotions of job searching. We know looking for a job is depressing and we do not teach skills to handle that struggle in school. We don’t teach the emotional consequences of death of a loved family member or finding the strength and perseverance necessary for applying for a job, landing a job or the responsibilities of having a job, neither as an employee or a supervisor. We totally ignore the responsibilities and tools of being a head or partner head of a family. Yet that is the one thing everyone is expected to know upon graduation – “Here you go; you have your certificate, now go get a job, get married, raise a family and oh, and by the way, name three Generals in the War of 1812!”.

But the issue of millennials being disconnected haunts me. Has my generation failed our youth? Do we need to teach our children how to deal with the enormous requests for their attention? I believe we do. How do we teach focus and concentration? Perhaps it might be that we need to create a program in our schools to help the next generation tools to filter information, i.e. what is and what is not important. This seems so much more relevant to a healthy society and happy citizens than fighting over evolution or divine intervention. Life management goes to the core of being a productive member of the workforce.

The federal administration wants to focus on the disparity of the wealthy and the poor. The solution they propose is wealth redistribution through taxes, but the cause of the disparity is missing opportunity. Opportunity is defined here as an amalgam of skills and possibilities. We have seen a change in jobs and careers,with many career paths vanishing but have not changed the education system and curriculum to match. I believe we have not properly prepared our youth.

As stated earlier, as cynical as I am, in this way our entire educational system has, in fact, short changed our youth. For millennials – I am personally deeply sorry; for my generation – I am profoundly embarrassed.

This brings questions not conclusions. Ones you are likely better suited to answer than myself. I believe the answers are very personal to each of us. They are best categorized.

  1. Have the parental generations failed the millennials in general? What do you think? Why, what is your reasoning? And, if yes, what could change?
  2. Why doesn’t the youth do something? Not talking about occupying Wall Street here, rather I am speaking of vociferously demanding change. There is a whole thread of blogs here on how my generation protested Vietnam and won, only to find victory was as pointless as the war, just less bloody.
  3. What can be done to improve the situation? It is easy to blame and expect someone else to fix the problem but, what exactly is the problem? You can’t fix it unless you can define it. Once defined, who is responsible to fix it? Note: Never expect the person(s) who created the problem to figure out how to fix it – if you do you are guaranteed it will get worse.
  4. Why does the issue exist?
  5. It seems social media is anathematic to social involvement/improvement. Is it really so? Does a high dosage of internet social stimuli actually attenuate the social experience? It is well documented that often people in rural communities who are physically farther apart are actually emotionally closer that people living in urban environments. What do you think and why?

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Paul Swengler CEOHave Millennials been short changed?