Eternal Sunshine of the Millennial Mind

Despite unemployment and underemployment, members of Gen Y say they’re prepared for the workforce and feel confident about their future.

University resources and internship experiences are millennials’ best friend. They might not have the same scope of opportunities once they graduate, but they’ve done enough research to know what they want — including what learning they’re looking for from employers.

“This year’s college grads look to be the most practical and job-ready of any crop in recent memory,” said Yaarit Silverstone, managing director of Accenture Strategy, Talent and Organization. “The question is: are employers ready to capitalize on their strengths?”

Silverstone talked with Chief Learning Officer about what jobs, development and attention Gen Y seeks. Edited excerpts follow.

Gen Y faces underemployment and unemployment, but is still confident in their futures. Why?

The class of 2015 is demonstrating high levels of resourcefulness and pragmatism, which is a positive sign for both students and employers. We’ve found this year’s graduates have taken important steps to prepare themselves to enter the workforce: They’ve completed internships, and are more likely to have considered the job market when deciding a major. They used university resources to identify employment opportunities at higher rates than their peers who graduated in 2013 and 2014.

Culture is so important to millennials when looking at employers. Why do you think that is?

It partly has to do with the startup culture and the perks they hear about from technology companies. Grads are also idealistic and altruistic — their top two career choices are education and health care. We’ve also found that 60 percent of 2015 graduates say they would prefer to work at a company with a fun social atmosphere and receive a lower salary, than receive higher pay at a company that is less fun.

What’s more, just 15 percent want to work for a large company, which illustrates that young employees value the work environment, often more than they do salary. Regardless of being a small, midsized or large firm, we know it is important for employers to offer entry-level employees challenging work and also create a culture of growth and advancement within the organization — particularly for high potential employees.

How important is development?

Very important. Students continue to want learning and development opportunities and employers continue to struggle on this front. More than three-quarters of 2015 grads expect to receive formal training in their first job, but 53 percent of 2013 and 2014 grads report their employer provided such opportunities. The gap between expectations for training and the reality of what recent grads have experienced presents employers with a significant opportunity to differentiate during the recruiting and retention parts of the talent supply chain. It’s also a way to strengthen the organization through ongoing talent development.

What kind of development do Gen Y employees want and/or need?

They need on-the-job training. There’s no such thing as the “perfect candidate” and every employee — recent grads on up — will need learning and development opportunities to develop skills and create a path for advancement within the organization.

Learning and development is an area that employers need to further enhance — to not only attract and retain top talent, but to ensure their organization cultivates the skills it needs to be competitive. Employers who fail to create career development programs and a clear path for advancement are missing a tremendous opportunity.

Gen Y employees want interesting and challenging work, flexible work hours, and opportunities for rapid advancement. They are also digital natives, and employers need to keep pace. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of 2015 grads plan to or have used a mobile app to search and apply for jobs — up from 36 percent — and social networking is now considered the most effective method of finding a job.