What Millennials Say We Got Wrong About Education – And What We Should Do Next

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Millennials may have gotten the rawest deal, when it comes to work preparedness and job environment, of any generation since those who came of age in the Great Depression. With parents who grew up in the steady to booming economies of the 70s and 80s, Millennials (especially the oldest members of the generation) were told that if they worked hard and got college degrees, they would have great jobs waiting for them.

Of course, we now know the rest of the story. Millennials graduated into the toughest economy in decades, with more debt than any other generation at their age. They are regularly blamed for the circumstances created by their elders, but they have also powerfully reshaped the world of business by refusing to do things the way their parents and grandparents did.

While many of the stereotypes about Millennials are plainly false – Millennials are not lazy, or selfish, or more neurotic than their elders – Millennials, and those who research them, generally agree that schools did not do a good job of adequately preparing students for the workforce.

As we head into the next Presidential term, especially given the focus Donald Trump appears to be placing on education, it’s important to analyze what went wrong in schools. Hopefully, as the President-elect and his team begin to focus on education during their next four years, they will use research to make the right improvements to our schools.

Hard and Soft Skills

In general, most employers believe (according to Forbes) that hard skills (technical know-how) and soft skills (“people” skills) are equally important in the workforce. As businesses have downsized over the last few decades, there has been less and less division between the people who manage machines and the people who manage people.

Schools historically do a good job of teaching technical, hard skills. They have not had the same focus on teaching soft skills, like management techniques, organizational skills, or effective communication. If these things are offered, they’re often at the MBA level, or elective classes.

Career Development

When Generation X and the Boomers were getting their first jobs, the goal was to find a good job where you could work for the rest of your life. Millennials have a very different plan, and often expect to leap from one industry to another. Much has been written about this, from employers blaming Millennials for not being loyal to companies, to Millennials pointing out that without retirement plans after thirty years of service, there’s less reason to stay with a company.

The truth, as is so often the case, often lies somewhere in the middle. Many Millennials do hope to stay with one company for many years, and many businesses do value their youngest employees. But with an unstable economy and the knowledge that people change careers now several times in their lifetimes, schools need to do more to teach Millennials how to develop their skills and promote themselves.

Taking online classes, connecting with mentors in online forums like LinkedIn, and reaching out to supervisors can all be used to develop skills and improve. But Millennials need to understand how to make this happen.

Effective Communication

Older generations often say that Millennials lack respect; Millennials often feel that older generations are out of touch and not paying adequate attention to the world around them. The truth is more likely that Millennials have very different ways of communicating than their elders. The Internet and social media have democratized discourse at a very fundamental level; there are fewer gatekeepers, and anyone can challenge anyone at any time.

Millennials are much less likely than their elders to take things at face value and are more likely to want to know the why of decisions that affect them.

It’s important for anyone who manages or is managed by, Millennials to have open and frank conversations about communication in the workplace. If an employee is prone to questioning decisions at inopportune times, challenging the questioning itself is unlikely to have a net positive result. Discussing when and where is the appropriate time for those conversations will likely yield more success.

Support For Internships

Thirty years ago, someone’s first job in an industry often involved a lot of learning and training. In the current economic environment, many Millennials feel that they are expected to learn as they do at their first job, and often in ways that are counterproductive.

Incorporating more internships and structured learning in high school and college would be a way to counteract the feeling of unpreparedness that many Millennials struggle with, creating employees who are more valuable to their employers.

Although the President-Elect has announced who he wants to have focusing on his education team, he has not talked much about his specific plans for education. We can only hope that these thoughts and ideas are informative to him and his team, so that schools can be refocused in ways that will be helpful to students and future workers.


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