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Young Workers Shift Approach to Career Prep

Millennial generation
The so-called Millennial generation will need to combine work and education earlier in their lives in order to prepare themselves for the changing landscape in the workplace, which is seeing fewer baby boomer retirements coupled with an increased need for highly skilled entry-level workers. ericsphotography

A new Georgetown University report has identified a structural shift in how young adults are preparing for the workforce and the age at which they reach economic self-sufficiency.

October 8, 2013—The work prospects for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors are looking up now that the “Great Recession” is winding down, according to two reports issued this summer by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. (See “Report: STEM Employment Prospects are Positive,” Civil Engineering online.) However, in its most recent report, issued last week, the center took a closer look at the young adults that comprise what is known as the Millennial generation to see how they are faring in the workforce compared to past generations of youth. What the center found surprised the researchers: a structural shift was identified in Millennials’ education and workforce training that corresponds to their delayed ability to reach economic self-sufficiency.

By 2020, there will be 55 million new jobs, approximately 22 million of which come from newly conceptualized and created jobs, and the remainder of which will open up due to retirements, according to Anthony Carnevale, Ph.D., the director of, and a research professor at, the center. Carnevale was the lead author on the study, Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Generation, which was coauthored with Andrew R. Hanson and Artem Gulish.

“It looks as if the jobs will be there, but there is an issue as to whether or not people will have the skills for the jobs,” Carnevale says.

Researchers discovered that there is a new phase of workforce training that has recently emerged. With a significant decline in the blue-collar jobs that high school graduates could previously move into, the typical young adult in the United States now needs to pursue at least some college-level training after high school. However, while college training in a specific field is crucial for landing a job in that field, according to Carnevale, there is now a postschooling workforce training period—internships, for example—that Millennials must undertake before they reach a level in their career paths at which they have sustained economic independence.

The report cites unemployment numbers that back this up: the rate of young adults aged 26-30 with only high-school diplomas who work full time, year-round has decreased from 66 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2012. For those young adults with a bachelor’s degree, their full-time, full-year employment rates have only dipped from 78 percent in 2000 to 70 percent in 2012.

Unlike earlier generations, the study found that the age at which young adults finally earn enough money to support themselves independently has shifted from 26 to 30 years, Carnevale says.

In addition to it taking longer for Millennials to reach that point in their lives at which they are economically self-sufficient, the existing workforce is delaying retirement, according to the report. This is not keeping jobs from Millennials, however, Carnevale is careful to point out. “Older people and young people don’t compete with each other for jobs,” Carnevale says. A 65-year-old engineer who retires will most likely be replaced by a 55-year-old in a position immediately below him or her, and so on down the ranks, he explains, so “you [do] get sort of a bumping process, but in fact the more powerful effect, it turns out, is that when older people are working, they essentially create demand.” The longer the baby-boomers work at the apex of their careers, he says, the more lower-level support staff are necessary.

However, despite the fact that the older generation is delaying retirement, the first wave of baby boomer retirements is now beginning, he says. And this wave is shifting how the federal government allocates its spending, moving money that previously would have been invested in education into such consumption-based services as Medicare and Social Security, Carnevale says.

With that shift from workers paying into the system to workers drawing out of the system, the federal government is “slowing down in [its] investments in young people at a time when, as we show in this study and in others, it is more and more important to have investments in your human capital development or skill development or education,” Carnevale explains. The shift in how money is allocated is “trading investment” in the future, he says, for consumption. “You’re reducing the long-term [economic] growth potential that comes from skilled workers and technology as well,” he adds.

Additionally, this shift in federal priorities is likely to continue for the next 18 to 20 years, according to Carnevale. “This is the new normal,” he says.

The report offers recommendations that will potentially help the next generation of young adult workers thrive. The authors suggest that work and learning be mixed at earlier stages in young adults’ lives so that they reach self-sufficiency in their careers at an earlier age, and that older adults be offered a more gradual transition from work to retirement. This would offer the economy the benefits of a large workforce—taxes paid rather than benefits drawn, and more positions for newer employees—as the economy continues to recover.



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