A Generational Shift within the American Workforce

bmI’ve blogged before about the cultural differences between older and younger Americans in the workforce. Some observers consider the differences to be of historic significance compared to previous eras, due to the confluence of various “macro” forces driving change at an extraordinary pace.

And somewhere along the way when few were looking, the millennial generation has now become the largest cohort in the American workforce.

And it isn’t even a close call: As of this year, millennials make up nearly 45% of all American workers, whereas baby boomer generation now comprises just over a quarter of the workforce.

According to a new report by management training and consulting firm RainmakerThinking titled The Great Generational Shift, there are actually seven groups of people currently in the workplace at this moment in time:

  • Pre-Baby Boomers (born before 1946): ~1% of the American workforce
  • Baby Boomers first wave (born 1946-1954): ~11%
  • Baby Boomers second wave (born 1955-1964): ~16%
  • GenXers (born 1965-1977): ~27%
  • Millennials first wave (born 1978-1989): ~27%
  • Millennials second wave (born 1990-2000): ~17%
  • Post-Millennials (born after 2000): ~1%

roowPersonally, I don’t know anyone born before 1946 who is still in the workforce, but there are undoubtedly a few of them — one out of every 100, to be precise.

But the older members of the Baby Boomer generation are fast cycling out of the workforce as well, with more than 10,000 of them turning 70 years old every day.

By the year 2020, the “first wave” Boomers are expected to be only around 6% of the workforce.  Meanwhile, Millennials are on track to represent more than 50% of the workforce by 2020.

Now, that makes some of us feel old!

The Great Generational Shift report can be downloaded here.

Cutting Some Slack: The “College Bubble” Explained

huThere are several “inconvenient truths” contained among the details of a recently released synopsis of college education and work trends, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation. Let’s check them off one-by-one.

The Cost of College

This truth is likely known to nearly everyone  who has children: education at four-year educational institutions isn’t cheap.  Here are the average annual prices for higher education in the United States for the current school year (includes tuition, fees, housing and meals):

  • 4-year public universities (in-state students): ~$19,550
  • 4-year public universities (out-of-state students): ~$34,000
  • 4-year private colleges and universities: ~$43,900

These costs have been rising fairly steadily for years now, seemingly without regard to the overall economic climate. But the negative impact on students has been muted somewhat by the copious availability of student loans — at least in the short term until the schedule kicks in.

The other important mitigating factor is the increased availability of community college education covering the first two years of higher education at a fraction of the cost of four-year institutions.  Less attractive are “for-profit” institutions, some of which have come under intense scrutiny and negative publicity concerning the effectiveness of their programs and how well students do with the degrees they earn from them.

Time Devoted to Education Activities

What may be less understood is the degree to which “full-time college” is actually a part-time endeavor for many students.

According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the past decade, the average full-time college student spends fewer than three hours per day on all education-related activities (just over one hour in class and a little over 1.5 hours devoted to homework and research).

It adds up to around 19 hours per week in total.

In essence, full-time college students are devoting 10 fewer hours per week on educational-related activities compared to what full-time high school students are doing.

Lest this discrepancy seem too shocking, this is this mitigating aspect:  When comparing high-schoolers and full-time college students, the difference between educationally oriented time spent is counterbalanced by the time spent working.

More to the point, for full-time college students, employment takes up ~16 hours per week whereas with full-time high school students, the average time working is only about 4 hours.

Full-Time Students vs. Full-Time Workers

Here’s where things get quite interesting and where the whole idea of the “college bubble” comes into broad relief. It turns out that full-time college students spend far less combined time on education and work compared to their counterparts who are full-time workers.

Here are the BLS stats:  Full-time employees work an average of 42 hours per week, whereas for full-time college students, the combined time spent on education and working adds up to fewer than 35 hours per week.

This graph from the Heritage Foundation report illustrates what’s happening:

CT

Interestingly, the graph insinuates that full-time college students have it easier than many others in society:

  • On average, 19-year-olds are spending significantly fewer hours in the week on education and work compared to 17-year-olds.
  • It isn’t until age 59+ that people are spending less time on education and work than the typical 19-year-old.

No doubt, some social scientists will take these data as the jumping off spot for a debate about whether a generation of “softies” is being created – people who will struggle in the rigors of the real world once they’re out of the college bubble.

Exacerbating the problem in the eyes of some, student loan default rates aren’t exactly low, and talk by some politicians about forgiving student loan debt is a bit of a lightning rod as well.  The Heritage Foundation goes so far as to claim that loan forgiveness programs are leaving taxpayers on the hook for “generous leisure hours,” since ~93% of all student loans are originated and managed by the federal government.

What do you think? The BLS stats don’t lie … but are the Heritage Foundation’s conclusions off-target?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Ipsos Reid Poll: Female Execs Gauge Their Advances

women managers and executivesAn interesting Ipsos Reid poll of female executives conducted late last year sheds light on what the perceived career holdbacks are for women in the workforce these days.

The results of the online survey, which queried ~500 American women working in managerial or executive roles, suggest that women continue to face obstacles in advancing their careers to upper-level management and executive positions … although the disparities are less today – and hopefully continuing the trend toward parity.

An example of one perception which continues to show a big divide between women and men is this:  While ~37% the survey respondents feel that physical appearance and personal image are factors in career progression for men, nearly all (~90%) believe that they are for women.

On the other hand, the perceived differences are less stark when it comes to opportunities for career progression based on the gender of a female employee’s immediate superior.  When asked how gender affects the chances for women to obtain a managerial position, here’s how the respondents answered:

If the superior is a woman …

  • 26% better chance for advancement
  • 30% worse chance for advancement
  • 44% no difference

If the superior is a man …

  • 26% better chance for advancement
  • 25% worse chance for advancement
  • 49% no difference

… Which translates into trust levels that aren’t so very different at all:

  • ~22% would trust a man more for help with career advancement
  • ~18% would trust a woman more for help with career advancement
  • ~60% express no difference in trust levels

Positive Work Attributes

The Ipsos/Reid survey also found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents consider women to be better leaders than men, primarily for these five reasons:

  • Women are better communicators
  • They are more organized
  • They are more empathetic
  • They have a better understanding of the needs of their employees
  • They are more open to changing their approach

For the record, two attributes that respondents do not attribute to women over men are:

  • Women have better instincts than men
  • They are more invested in an organization’s success compared to men.

With a confident self-image and backed by positive work habits, what do these respondents see as the biggest continuing challenges to their career growth?  Here’s what the Ipsos Reid survey found:

  • The requirement for women to work harder and put in longer hours to prove themselves: ~77%
  • Managing work and family balance: ~61%
  • External factors (economic climate/job loss): ~56%
  • Being welcomed into an established senior management team:  ~48%
  • Dealing with outdated perceptions of women in managerial and executive roles: ~48%
  • Lack of female mentors: ~47%

Moreover, ~78% of respondents discern a “noticeable” different in salaries between men and women.

Asked what a company might “fear” about promoting women to senior managerial and executive posts, the respondents cited several probable factors:  the fear that an executive might want to start and maintain a family … and the fear of too many absences from work due to family obligations.

Bottom line, the Ipsos Reid survey reveals some continuing obstacles for women in the executive-level work force.  But there’s positive news, too.  Additional survey findings can be found here.

If you have additional observations or perspectives on this topic, please share them with other readers here.

HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

Lack of professionalism among new hiresAs those of us in the world of business begin to add years (or decades) to our tenure, it becomes easier than ever to look at the younger crop of workers coming onstream and see traits that don’t align with our worldview about what is acceptable, “SFW” behavior.

Perhaps we’re too set in our ways. Maybe we’re not being flexible enough or making a sufficient effort to keep an open mind about proper office professionalism and etiquette.

But maybe we’re not offbase after all:  A new survey of HR professionals suggests that others have also noticed — and they’re not very forgiving, either.

In fact, this survey of ~400 human resources managers, which was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, found that opinions of recent college graduates in the workforce have grown more negative over the past five years.  (The survey is conducted annually.)

When asked about their experiences in recruiting and hiring recent college graduates, these HR managers were pretty unsparing in their criticism. Here are some of the opinions the survey uncovered:

  • More than one-third of HR respondents felt that the level of professionalism among new college-educated employees has worsened over the past five years.
  • Nearly half believe that the work ethic of new employees is worse today than before.
  • More than half of the respondents feel that new workers come into the workforce with an unrealistic air of entitlement.

What are some of the specific areas where HR managers see new hires failing to measure up? These were the most prevalent mentions in the York survey:

  • Appropriate appearance and dress
  • Punctuality and workplace attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • Staying on-task through to completion of assignments
  • Honesty

And that’s not all.

The human resources professionals in this survey reported that younger employees “appear arrogant” during the hiring process and once they come on the job.

Moreover, these HR professionals contend that new employees aren’t taking proper cues from older, more established workers in the office, but instead from their peers and friends.

A manifestation of this is the predilection to text co-workers rather than to communicate via e-mail messages, or through personal conversations and interfaces.

The basic problem with the attitudes of new company hires was pointed out by Deborah Ricker, director of the Center for Professional Excellence: “Acceptable behavior among peers is not necessarily acceptable among coworkers and superiors.”

Amen to that.

[Click here if you’re interested in downloading a full summary of the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey results.]

Most of us can probably think of one or two examples of employees who personify many of the issues brought up by the HR managers in the York survey.

One example that comes to my mind from our own office’s experience was a young worker who decided she needed to take short naps during her lunch periods.

Nothing really wrong with that, except … she did so by lying down on the floor next to her desk — which was directly behind another worker’s cubicle. Imagine trying to do your work while having someone snoozing (snoring) at your feet!

If you have similar anecdotes about some of the younger hires in your office, feel free to leave a comment. It’ll be good for a chuckle or two – even if there’s an underlying context that’s way sober.

Disappointing News from Both Sides of Business

Amazon logoCaterpillar logoTwo announcements this week from opposite ends of the economy prove how challenged the business environment continues to be. On the “old industry” front, Caterpillar has announced that it will be permanently cutting ~2,500 employees from its operations.

At the same time, a few hundred hourly workers are being called back by Caterpillar to select factories that manufacture certain types of road construction equipment. That softened the blow a bit, but the overall message is clear: Despite the expected growth in infrastructure projects, the stimulus legislation isn’t having much if any “ripple” effect on related or ancillary business segments.

On the other end of the scale is the über-hip, “new economy” Amazon – an enterprise that has achieved so much success selling products of all kinds online. But Amazon seems to have laid an egg in one product category: selling fine wines. After spending several years attempting to organize a mail-order business around wine products – even with the enthusiastic cooperation of boutique wineries all across the country – Amazon has had to throw in the towel on this enterprise.

The hurdles that turned out to be so insurmountable? Everything from the logistics of shipping products that must be delivered directly to the recipients’ hands to avoid problems with perishability … to the Byzantine state laws that regulate the shipment of wine across state lines. (Taken as a whole, those laws are probably more complicated than the provisions of the health care insurance reform bills being debated on Capitol Hill!)

In the end, even the vaunted Amazon – so used to success in practically everything it undertakes – has had to give up on trying to sort through the myriad governmental laws and regulations along with the challenges of wine shipping and delivery, while also turning a profit on the enterprise.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Amazon has gotten burned in this business. Back in the late 1990s, the company sank ~$30 million into an ill-fated venture with Wineshopper.com that likewise came to nothing. I guess when your company is made up of mostly twenty-something-aged workers, the institutional memory is pretty short!

Sour grapes, anyone?