I’m 45 now, I’ve been an engineer for over half my life. Bit by bit, I have passed into the second half of my career without ever seeing the change coming. Every once in a while I run into a discussion, in person or online, about the Millenials as the “Me Generation”, about how young people today are all about their entitlement and their toys, and not about what they can do your their country — or, more likely, for their employer. As some like to sum it up, “Millenials want bags of money or praise.”
The first time it happened, maybe five years ago or so — I guess by then I was considered elderly enough not to be considered one of the young whippersnappers anymore — I was quite shocked. I was trying to recognize the young people I know, and failed. I asked myself whether it was because I was so disconnected from them, but it just so happen that a good number of my friends are in their mid-twenties.
Now I’ve gone back to teaching and I look at even younger people in our Engineering Department. Do these complaints reflect what I’m seeing?
In a word, no. I think it’s absurd.
I’m not saying that there is no difference between young people in 2011 and those I taught in the late 90s, or my cohorts in the late 80s, let alone my parents’ generation. Particularly in the way they have learned to learn, the way they work, their expectations of how things work, they obviously have been shaped by a different context. They have grown up with different technology.
But I find the descriptions that have been attached to their supposed sense of entitlement and air-headedness completely unfair. Do they have unrealistic expectations? Of course — it’s part of that stage of life. And let’s face it, the world they have been raised to expect changes even faster with each passing decade.
Do they need to learn critical thinking, hard work, self-reliance, initiative, resourcefulness? About as much as 20-year-olds ever do, and maybe less than my students from the late 90s.
Do they have an inflated sense of entitlement? Ha. Less so than the Baby Boomers. In fact, if anything the Millenials’ flaw in the eyes of most employers is that they aren’t quite naive enough about being taken advantage of. I still wouldn’t call them savvy — that’s something that take more years of experience — but they don’t come in with the expectation that they should sacrifice everything to the altar of The Job. I say good on them.
No, what I’m seeing is young people who want their choices to have a meaning, who want try many things, who want their efforts to be appreciated, and who are doubtful about how much they can trust what they hear from older generations. Employers, give them a chance and give them some reasons to love what they do!