Gen Y: Asset or Liability to the Workforce?

Today’s workforce is comprised of multiple generations, sometimes as many as four working side by side. This dynamic presents both benefits and challenges – as you may have experienced for yourself. Each generation is characterized by a set of traits based on the timeframe and circumstances of their formative years. Politics, popular culture, economic factors, world events, and technology innovations impact how a generation thinks and acts. Not all individuals exhibit the characteristics associated with their generation, but experts have identified themes that are common within the generation as a whole.

Historically, your student experienced events like the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attack during their formative years. They’ve grown up with celebrities like Prince William, Elijah Wood, Christina Aguilera, Macaulay Culkin, and Serena and Venus Williams. Their world is filled with digital devices and dependent on the Internet. Life before Google and Facebook doesn’t exist for them.

Your student, being among the youngest generation entering the labor market, may possess certain characteristics that will impact their transition into the world of work. Students within this generation have been referred to as Generation Y or the Millennial generation. They may exhibit some of the following assets: teamwork-oriented, optimistic, able to multi-task, and technologically savvy. These characteristics can be used to their advantage in the workplace. Teamwork and technology are baseline expectations for workers across many industries. However, they may also encounter some challenges with liabilities such as the need for supervision and structure and their lack of experience (especially handling difficult people issues).

Working with Gen Y, I have noticed some trends in how they view the job search and world of work. Many students are achievement-oriented. They set personal and professional goals for themselves, and they look for individuals who will help them achieve those goals. They value open and honest communication and often seek positive reinforcement from supervisors. In their career decision-making process, they tend to express the desire for personal fulfillment and satisfaction, as well as the conviction to make a difference in the world. They want their job to mean something, but they also see the need to reduce stress and create balance between life and work.

As parents and family members, you can help your students in several ways.

  • Help them identify their individual strengths and values. Engage them in conversations around what they are skilled at doing and what kinds of contributions they want to make in their future career or lifework. Values are a strong indicator of job satisfaction. You have influence in empowering your student to achieve his or her ideal of personal fulfillment in their job.

    Career Services offers a variety of assessments and resources, including an online course, which help them to explore personality, skills, interests, and values and match them with appropriate career options.

  • Encourage them to volunteer, work part time, or participate in an internship. If inexperience is a liability, then they will need to build their resume to show how they will benefit the potential employer. Employers are looking for soft skills in areas like communication, problem-solving, interpersonal relations, and leadership. Even on-campus jobs and/or leadership positions can be an avenue for gaining experience.

    Career Services hosts an online job board called BruinCareers. Employers post jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities for free. Students can create “job agents” that alert them when positions that meet their criteria enter the system. It averages 50-100 internships at any given time.

  • Share your network with them and facilitate connections to the professional world. Networking is the strongest source of job leads. I’m sure you’re more than familiar with the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Based on the Gen Y characteristic of teamwork, your student may be motivated by the people he/she works with. Expose them to people in your network who can provide insight and opportunities for your student to expand their perceptions of the workplace.

    Career Services is in the process of coordinating several career fairs that will put students in direct contact with employers from various industries. Two fairs worth noting include the First Avenue Career & Graduate School Fair on March 2 ( and a Healthcare Career Fair on March 5.

As new generations merge into the ever-changing landscape of employment, career development and employability skills become more and more vital. As a career counselor, I admire the optimism students in Gen Y present. They are hopeful and resilient. The key to their success in finding employment that resonates with their personal values is awareness – both internally and externally – and knowing themselves and the environment in which they will enter.

I’m reminded of Timothy as he entered the ministry. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). While there may be challenges for Gen Y – as there have been for every generation – they have tremendous assets to contribute. Together, we can equip them to apply those assets as leaders and innovators to create a bright future.

Angela J. Doty, M.A., GCDF
Associate Director of Career Services