Gillentine

Millennials: Forging new solutions to old problems

On Monday, my youngest daughter graduated from high school. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do, but thankfully, her sixth-grade wishes of being a lion tamer or taking over the island nation of Cuba are no longer under consideration.

So she’s headed to Denver Community College in August to decide between the much more staid careers of web and graphic design or social work. She’ll have an apartment on her own, as will her older sisters (one at Colorado State University and the other at the University of Rochester).

We also have a son who has chosen not to take the higher-education route. He’s opening his own business, a tree installation firm that launches today. He’s excited and energetic about choosing something that means he can create his own business, his own way.

And the three girls have caught some of that enthusiasm. One is a junior, a microbiology major who once thought of research as a career field. But now she’s wondering if there are ways to take her degree and create something all her own with it. The other, studying pre-med, is considering her own practice.

While my family of Millennials probably can’t stand in for the entire generation — I see similar ideas taking shape around the city. Jacob Eichengreen is leading The Quad, a consortium of the Air Force Academy, UCCS, Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College. The goal is to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city to keep Millennials here and engaged in creating a world-class, 21st century city. For many Millennials, that means creating their own businesses.

Sam Elliott, another recent UCCS graduate, spent last week in Singapore, pitching his new database company on a global stage. Even as an undergraduate, he knew he wasn’t going to take the traditional route from college to job, and work for someone else. He’s already been on the board of Peak Startup, worked with more than one fledgling company and has garnered the attention of the city’s leadership. People want to see what he’s going to do next and what success will look like to him.

More co-working spaces are popping up all over town, mirroring ones in Denver and the first in Colorado Springs, called Epicentral. Co-working spaces are designed to develop collaborative spaces where  people from different backgrounds and different interests come together and work toward separate goals. It’s a fairly new way of developing office space, but it’s become successful.

Generation Xers didn’t really think about changing how we work. We didn’t think about how to take a degree and create something that matched our goals and passions. Instead, we took jobs, worked our way up one career ladder after another. And we’ve been successful. Generation X — once called the slacker generation — is now leading companies and deciding the future.

But that’s why I don’t get too concerned when people complain that this new generation doesn’t work hard enough, doesn’t seem that interested in where they are going, and is more interested in flextime than overtime. They are definitely fascinated by the journey — but they’ll get to the destination in their own way. And who knows? We might all be better for it.

Many Millennials have decided that the old way of 9-to-5 plus overtime won’t work for them. Toddlers during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in middle and high school during the worst downturn since the Great Depression, they’ve decided to make some changes. Even those who go to work in traditional corporate settings want to bring a sense of their individuality with them. They want more from work than a paycheck; they want to have fun; they also want to make a difference. Most importantly, they seem to want to do it on their own terms.

It’s up to us as leaders and business owners to give them both a purpose and a mission — if not through the job itself, through opportunities to connect, to work with nonprofits, to build community. It’s vitally important because the Millennial generation is even bigger than the Boomers, and will be shaping consumer spending trends, developing new generations of vaccines and medicines, deciding the regulatory environment and creating the next generation of technologies and jobs.

Let’s make sure this generation is prepared to bring their own specific spin to businesses. Give them room to grow, to find their way — and the tools they’ll need to use when they get there.

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