By timestaff
December 10, 2012

Want a survival manual for the new economy? Pay attention to the kids.

Specifically, watch the millennials, a.k.a. Gen Y, who were born after 1981. Recently I moderated a panel discussion on millennials in the workplace. My preparation and the follow-up I’ve since done with experts and some of my own younger colleagues have convinced me that the rap on this generation — that they feel entitled and lack commitment — misses the point, which is this: In an era of “permalancing,” disruptive technology, and nonstop globalization, those of us with a little gray (or little hair) can learn some lessons from the younger set. Take these:

Expect to switch careers. The embrace of a multicareer work life is perhaps the most striking difference between Gen Y and older folks.

Author Neil Howe, who coined the term “millennials,” says that this is a function of neither their age nor their appetite for risk, which Howe believes is less than you might think.

Rather, he says, it’s because the seismic economic shifts that were occurring just as this group entered the workforce changed the rules.

As Dev Aujla, who wrote “Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World” and is a millennial himself, puts it, “The steady straight line that meant stability for previous generations isn’t guaranteed.”

You’ll need more training. This is the most educated bunch in history, and they expect they’ll require more in the future.

Howe says millennials understand the economy handed them lemons, so they’re developing skills to make career lemonade. “Credentialed training is very important,” Howe says, “partly because it is portable but also because it gives legitimacy within their organization.”

Focus on the experience, not the job itself. Many of your newest colleagues don’t expect to stick around long enough to climb the “ladder” we so cherish.

A millennial co-worker told me she thought “it might be interesting to work in TV for a couple of years.” Not that I ever felt that way, but if I had, I wouldn’t have said so for fear of limiting my chances to advance.

Don’t be an Eeyore. Millennials are optimistic and prefer to work for companies that articulate a mission to serve society.

Those who graduated from college are keenly aware they paid a lot for an education that doesn’t guarantee them a lucrative job. Ultimately, though, says Howe, they believe they will find what they’re looking for.

Consult your elders. Millennials like, lean on, and trust their parents. A lot. Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, who handles Marine recruiting, showed me a new poster that targets parents, not their children.

Embrace change, keep learning, be willing to start over, and find what you really want to do. Not bad career advice, especially from those who are so young.

And don’t forget, spend time with your parents. They still have lessons for you too.

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