If Millennials are beginning to attract attention, it’s with very good reason. Expected to comprise half of the workforce by 2020, and 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, Millennials are fast becoming a major force in the population. Yet misconceptions are rife about who this latest generation really is, what they value, and how they can best contribute to society. One company that is beginning to appreciate Millennials in detail is Barnes & Noble College, which has partnered with consulting company Why Millennials Matter to develop greater insights into this latest generation, and help colleges and universities better prepare them for the future.
Students themselves seem eager to have their voices and opinions heard. More than 3,000 of them recently responded to over 17,000 open-ended questions asked by Barnes & Noble College at two and four-year colleges in 44 states. “We decided to do some deep research with millennials to understand what it is they were looking for in the workplace and what they expected from their future employers,” says Lisa Malat, Vice President of Marketing and Operations for Barnes & Noble College, “and really looking to see how we can help and be strategic partners in helping them to achieve their goals.”
The result, The College Student Mindset – For Career Preparation & Success, is a report designed to help colleges and universities provide their students with the tools and resources needed for more effective career outcomes. “Millennials represent a very different generation in the workforce,” explains Joan Kuhl, President and Founder of Why Millennials Matter, “and it’s time for institutions in higher education, and employers, to rethink the traditional roadmap for career preparation and long-term success.”
One of the initial preconceptions the study upends is that while popular thinking often portrays Millennials as directionless or unconcerned about their futures, the exact opposite is true. “Something that concerned us about the results was that as much as students care about their future — with even freshmen identifying specific ideas about what they want to do — they can be way too casual about their career strategy,” Kuhl says.
An invaluable way students can gain experience and help prepare for their future is through internships, yet an astounding 42 percent of the study’s respondents had yet to apply for one internship opportunity, and only one quarter had worked with their university’s career center. Kuhl maintains those kinds of results are not altogether surprising. If every generation is a product of their society, Millennials have been exposed to a unique mixture of cultural experiences. Access and reliance on technology through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, a generation parented in a completely new way, even world events such as climate change, have had a unique influence in shaping this generation. Those influences can also result in a widely different career expectation than the generation preceding them.
Kuhl believes this could be a major factor behind the job gap, where 44 percent of undergrads are underemployed, yet hiring managers are frustrated with seemingly unqualified applicants. “With such a radically different experience in their personal and college lives to that of their employers, why are we so surprised that Millennials want a seat at the table when it comes to new product launches, or a say in how the company invests its corporate responsibility dollars?” she asks. “The gap exists because employers don’t believe grads have the right skills for the real-world workplace such as critical thinking or the ability to demonstrate good judgment.”
The new Barnes & Noble College report demonstrates that Millennials do have skills aplenty, yet need guidance in articulating and practically applying them. As one Senior student from George Mason University put it, “I’ve learned that what was taught in college isn’t going to solely get me into the workforce and help me succeed. I need practical skills, and that work experience is just as important as my academic experience.” Those kinds of findings make the role of colleges and universities even more crucial to better employment outcomes. “Higher education represents the perfect strategic partner; reaching students in their formative years and being the connector for students to employers, to alumni and to the corporate community,” Kuhl maintains.
Since student career readiness is a core goal for colleges and universities, Barnes & Noble College hopes the report, and subsequent studies on Millennial Student Career Prep, will help its campus partners achieve their retention, recruitment and career placement goals. Kuhl can point to several universities where innovation and engagement with alumni and employers have resulted in a redeveloped curriculum in tune with the marketplace, creating encouraging results. “This generation, more than any other, has the power to change the workplace,” she maintains. “They have unique talents, know how to work together and understand technology. This is a great opportunity for universities and employers to engage early to prepare them with the best opportunity for a successful future.”