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A New World of Work, Part III: Millennials – Who They Are and Why They Matter

Workers from the millennial generation, born between 1985 and 2005, continue to enter the modern workforce and are rapidly reshaping the global world of work. Millennials account for 25 per cent of the US workforce, according to PwC’s Annual Global CEO survey, and it is predicted that by 2020 they will make up around 50 per cent of the global workforce.

Directly contrasting the preceding baby boomer generation and generations X and Y, millennials are bringing increased flexibility and new specialisms into the workplace. While extra effort must be made by businesses, who must rethink their strategies and recruitment procedures in order to accommodate this new breed of worker, the millennial generation is also bringing a number of exciting opportunities to organisations that can benefit from talented workers.

What Makes Millennials Different

In contrast to previous generations, millennials are true digital natives, accustomed to the instant availability that comes with a technology-centric upbringing. Many will be well-versed in multiple skill sets, though some may lack formal education and training having relied on practical experience to gain their knowledge. These attributes make for a very flexible and dynamic workforce, ready to take on challenges that previous generations might struggle with; however this flexibility comes at a cost and engaging with these workers often requires a different approach.

Compared to previous generations, millennials have experienced the global economic crises from a different perspective, during their formative years. For many millennials this has had a profound impact on the level of trust they place in businesses and as a result they tend to prioritise their own personal needs as opposed to the needs of an employer. In fact, a survey of millennials from Bentley University found that only 13 per cent of respondents considered ‘climbing the corporate ladder’ to be a career goal, with 67 per cent stating that their primary goal was to start their own business.

A recent US study conducted by the Freelancers Union discovered that millennials are the largest contributors to the growing freelancing industry at 35 per cent. This figure reflects the flexibility that millennials crave, which is a major contributing factor to the growth in today’s contingent workforce. And, while the contingent work trend did not begin with millennials, this group will soon outnumber baby boomers in the workplace and will continue to be a key driver for future growth.

Millennials and the Gig Economy

As a greater number of millennials enter the workplace and the trend towards contingent working continues to increase, employers have been adapting their traditional views on employment. This has become particularly apparent with the rise of the gig economy which is structured into smaller projects and is typically facilitated by an online platform or app, making it a popular option for the millennial workforce.

There are two key characteristics of millennials that fit perfectly into the gig economy and that companies will need to cater to when seeking their expertise: their breadth of experience and interests and the slightly contentious issue of attention span. Having grown up accustomed to instant access to online knowledge, millennials are often perceived as lacking patience and seeking new opportunities too quickly. As with all generalisations there are of course many exceptions but these are nonetheless factors, not necessarily negative, that must be considered.

Where previous generations sought to spend many years perfecting their skills in a particular field, millennials will tend to seek varied professional experiences that match their interests and are less afraid of changing professions during their professional lives. For employers this can be both a great advantage and something to watch out for in equal measure. Engaging with millennials gives access to individuals with greater flexibility and more diverse expertise, but who must be managed and kept interested with a variety of diverse tasks. These characteristics of course fit perfectly into a gig economy typified by shorter-term, more specialist projects undertaken by an on-demand workforce.

Businesses that choose to engage with gig workers have access to an incredibly powerful, talented and flexible workforce and their significance to an organisation should not be underestimated. For businesses seeking support for project work, or particular areas of specialism, engaging with gig workers provides an effective and efficient solution for the company and the benefits for both parties are incomparable; gig working provides millennials with the flexibility they desire while saving businesses the administrative and financial burden of hiring permanent members of staff. In addition, gig workers provide companies with an intense level of specialism that may not be available from a more ‘all round’ employee.

The challenge, however, comes from how employers attract, engage with and ultimately retain these workers. Loyalty is a key issue as gig workers are not formally tied to a business and employers may question what stops a gig worker from going on to work for a competitor once a project is complete. With this in mind, it is critical that employers consider how they position their company as an attractive option for these types of worker to continue working for them on a gig basis.

The next article in this New World of Work series looks at the legal and regulatory challenges facing gig working and ask whether new regulation and legislation around working practices is inevitable when working with a truly flexible workforce in the future.  As ever, please leave your comments below or get in touch if you would like to discuss further.

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