The Hooked Up Gen, born 1991-1995, have grown up with the expectation––both theirs and their parents––that they will readily find jobs and earn good salaries when they graduate from college. They've come to expect instant gratification, instant access to information and instant feedback from friends, teachers, parents and employers. They are now confronted with a new reality––a job market that is not offering the universal acceptance and instant gratification they have come to expect.
According to a 2011 New York Times article, employment rates for recent college grads fell in 2009 and 2010. They fell again in 2011, along with starting salaries for those able to find jobs. Less than half of the jobs these graduates find require a college degree––leaving these workers with student loans to pay off on wages previously paid to high school graduates.
High school graduates are finding it even more difficult. And, as military veterans return from Afghanistan, government and private programs will support and assist them, creating an even more challenging job market for college graduates for several years.
What's the Future?
In November 2011, at Bob Jones University campus in Greenville, South Carolina, a group of The Hooked Up Gen discussed their views about the Internet and the impact that the current financial climate and economic outlook will have on their job searches when they graduate.
"I don't know exactly what I'm going to end up doing, but it won't have anything to do with my major," said Mary Coleman, a 21-year-old Journalism and Mass Communication major from Spartanburg, SC. Mary studied communications and professional writing and graduated a semester early with honors. But her prospects upon graduation weren't great, so she began the paperwork required to attend Officer Candidate School and is now working toward becoming an officer in the Navy. "My internships and coursework during college were great, but I still don't have the experience most companies want," Mary said. "At least I know there's a future in the military." English major Elizabeth Rogers agreed. "I'm graduating. To what? Can't be sure. I guess I'll need to figure out what's next."
The resounding cry from The Hooked Up Gen is What will I do next? They are accustomed to a lifestyle they can't finance with the kind of entry-level jobs available to those right out of college or even a few years beyond college.
"A degree isn't enough," said Karissa Kincaid, a junior majoring in professional writing. "You can't just be good…you have to have a shining resume, a load of talent, and all the right connections to get a good job out of college. The rest of us…well, I know I'm going to have to take what I can get out of college and work towards my long-term goals."
Doubling Down on Work and Study
More than 60 percent of current college students are already working at jobs to pay college costs. Slightly more than 50 percent intend to get a job immediately after graduation, while 30 percent intend to go to graduate school. Only 7 percent intend to "take time off," and 10 percent have no plan for their future. Students recognize that their graduation will coincide with a challenging employment market and limited job availability. 60 percent of current college students believe it will be more difficult to get a job in the future than it is now. Only 14 percent believe it will be easier.
When it comes to their future, 40 percent of The Hooked Up Gen say they are optimistic about the future of their age group. 23 percent say they are pessimistic. Looking forward to when they and their classmates are 30 to 35 years old, only 23 percent say they expect their generation will be having a meaningful and important impact on political, business and social issues, while 40 percent say they will be having some impact. On the pessimistic side, 21 percent believe they and their classmates will have little meaningful impact.
Rather than complaining or protesting, students are doubling down on their academic efforts, participating in internships and building networks.
When asked to describe their ideal jobs or to define their vision of a successful life, not one of the interviewed students mentioned money. Several experts believe that high salaries will be less relevant as mortgages, bank loans and even car ownership lose their value as a way to maintain status among friends. This may be true, but it's also possible that salary won't motivate The Hooked Up Gen regardless of their economic future.
"…for many people, [the inability to secure mortgages] may be as empowering as Generation X thought home ownership was. As long as there is a plentiful supply of rental accommodation, it's possible that the expectation of vast salaries, as well as the intense pressure to perform, may give way to a less frantic and more fulfilling type of working life."
Jobpartners Talent Consultancy
In fact, several members of The Hooked Up Gen interviewed for this book had similar answers when asked what constitutes success. Their responses mentioned helping other people, making a lasting difference, and solving problems––not hefty paychecks and astronomical bonuses. Despite his worry of sounding clichéd, journalism major Allen Vickers agrees.
"[Success is] being able to realize that what you've done in your life has touched a lot of people. Romeo Brown hosts a blog titled, 'You measure success by how many people you bless.' And that always stuck with me. When I get older I want my messages to reach people. It's not about money as much as knowing that I've helped somebody become a more positive person. I mean money would be awesome––don't get me wrong––but that's not the measuring stick."
The key to understanding The Hooked Up Gen' attitudes toward big business and employment is to understand this generation's definition of success. For The Hooked Up Gen, the definition of success is not simply accumulating wealth. In fact, some are actively hostile toward this definition. Many members of The Hooked Up Gen aren't motivated by the same things as earlier generations were. Accumulating money isn't enough to keep them focused on repetitive or non-challenging tasks or in jobs they find unfulfilling or ethically unrewarding.
So what motivates this generation? They seek variety in responsibility, social engagement and collaboration, relevance, and a knowledge that they are contributing to something larger than themselves or the business they work for. The Reflexive Generation, a report by the London Business School's Centre for Women in Business, notes that a misunderstanding about attitudes toward wealth could be key to the perception that millennials have little work ethic.
Cautious Corporate Relationships
Baby Boomers gained a detailed and visually graphic knowledge of the Vietnam War by watching television. The Hooked Up Gen, on the other hand, have had continual exposure to the economic collapse of the United States and the global economic crisis. They've witnessed corporate and government dishonesty and mismanagement––from "Too Big to Fail" to auto industry bailouts, Congressional battles over tax cuts, and 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. They have watched the "Occupy Wall Street" movement grow. They've witnessed the trend of outsourcing jobs to third-world countries with cheap labor, partnered with attacks on U.S. labor unions and their longstanding role and value for American workers.
The Hooked Up Gen have viewed the "perp-walks" of high-profile executives who mismanaged or cheated stockholders out of billions of dollars. They've been exposed throughout their lives to highly publicized economic scams, from Enron to Bernie Madoff. Pioneers are well aware of the gap between the middle class and the most wealthy business owners and stockholders, and they see the political battles between change and status quo.
Is it any wonder that The Hooked Up Gen are wary of big business?
Yet the wariness runs both ways. Corporations are also cautious. Some business experts expect a crisis of human resource management as this new generation enters the workplace. Consulting firms like Kelly Staffing and Red Tree offer training modules that assume the millennial applicant is an outspoken, bold thinker who is highly proficient technologically, but who also has an inflated sense of self-worth and lacks manners and social skills.
Millennials, according to Jordan Kaplan, professor in Managerial Science at the Long Island University Business School, are unlikely to respond well to the almost military, top-down command structure of most big businesses. Internet Natives have grown up questioning authority and with a sense of their own competence, empowerment and responsibility. Reasons for this include years of watching Nickelodeon with its model of "questioning everything," and parenting styles that favored treating children more like peers than children.
The empowerment and sense of self that is evident in the actions of The Hooked Up Gen is a double-edged sword in the corporate world and often misperceived by many old-school managers. On the down side, older co-workers and managers perceive this age group as demanding, entitled, and unwilling to abide by the traditional structure of rank and authority within a business. Corporations may feel they have to nudge The Hooked Up Gen to be productive and to operate within the organization's guidelines. Other barriers include the Internet Pioneer mistrust of big business and lack of corporate loyalty.
However, their sense of empowerment gives The Hooked Up Gen two advantages when working with and within big business.
Advantage of the Front Row Seat
Growing up with constant Internet access has given The Hooked Up Gen a "front-row" view of people with no extraordinary connections achieving real and important success and communicating it effectively. Whether they're looking at the rise of a simple Internet meme, or watching hours of TED talks, this age group understands and has internalized human potential in a way previous generations couldn't. Furthermore, they've freely commented in response to professional news gathering organizations, corporate blogs, and op-ed columnists. They are equals online and expect their voices and opinions to be acknowledged and heard in corporate boardrooms as well.
This sense of empowerment extends to the arts, education, medicine and other areas where decision-making has been closed and hierarchical.
This has also affected the jobs of reviewers and critics of the arts, travel, restaurants, etc., as anyone with an Internet connection can comment on his or her own experience and offer recommendations. Today's consumers are relying more on these critiques than on the advice of professionals.
Social sites such as Pinterest.com offer a new form of response and criticism. Users "pin" images that appeal to them, and other users have the option of re-pinning or commenting on those pins. Facebook and Twitter empower opinions on just about any subject. This interactive form of criticism and response will continue to grow as The Hooked Up Gen, who perceive this as a normal part of the critical process, gain prominence in the arts and business.
The Advantage of Open Minds
The second advantage of empowerment applies primarily to minorities among Internet Natives. Web anonymity means previously defining characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, age, etc. are not known. As a result, individuals are judged on the quality of their ideas and their willingness to put them out there, and little else. For example, the lack of preconceived ideas about their age has helped The Hooked Up Gen to achieve success in web publishing and starting Internet-based movements or enterprises. A corollary to this second advantage is a noted lack of prejudice among this age cohort. Growing up in an environment where such things are of secondary––if any––importance has given The Hooked Up Gen open minds. This acceptance can only improve their performance in the workplace, enhance diversity and improve corporate capabilities for embracing the growing multicultural consumer population.
Traditional organizational models in the corporate world are breaking down in the socially interconnected Internet-based environment––and The Hooked Up Gen are very comfortable ignoring these structures and the hierarchical barriers that distance senior management from their newest colleagues. If you want to connect with a customer's CEO, your youngest employee may prove more competent at getting access than an experienced middle––or even senior––manager. The challenge is making sure he or she is prepared with the right message when the CEO reads and responds to his or her LinkedIn or Facebook message.
More and more, experienced executives trained in traditional corporate models will need to fast-track The Hooked Up Gen into responsible corporate roles. Older executives will find value in partnerships with The Hooked Up Gen who are tech-savvy at a level previous generations don't begin to approach.
By combining their social networking sophistication and their ability to telecommute and access information globally, The Hooked Up Gen will lead a movement toward corporate collaboration at an unprecedented level.
Expertise at Multitasking and Social Media
Courteous body language and respect for social mores relating to communication with senior colleagues are skills easily addressed through training. The Hooked Up Gen bring a different kind of social skill to the table. These young adults have grown up accessing chat rooms and social networks where they routinely communicate with peers from all over the world. They are experts at multitasking complex conversations through multiple modes of media. Examples include the ease with which they upload videos to YouTube, create podcasts and maintain multiple text conversations while doing homework.
The Hooked Up Gen reflect a paradigm shift in the way people and organizations will collaborate and communicate in the future. The Hooked Up Gen are experts at communicating in their particular idiom. Put in charge of projects where this idiom is an asset, as most projects will be into the foreseeable future, they can outperform older colleagues despite any perceived shortcomings in other communication arenas. .
It's true The Hooked Up Gen will enter the corporate world and accept jobs in health, education, energy and other fields with a perspective and attitude different from that of previous generations. They bring to the workplace a set of fundamental beliefs about human rights, equality, diversity, fair pay, globalization and work/life balance.
In addition, The Hooked Up Gen have little confidence in the loyalty of employers toward them––and thus see no reason to give employers their undivided loyalty. This generation will follow multiple career paths, often engaging in entrepreneurial ventures while working in traditional jobs.
Fewer members of The Hooked Up Gen are majoring in traditional fields, with only 33 percent of males and 18 percent of females following the traditional math/science/engineering path. Psychology and premed majors account for 8 percent of male and 18 percent of female students. Communications, English, humanities and languages are attracting 17 percent of college students. Students in majors focusing on political science, history, pre-law, or international affairs account for 9 percent, with many students having double majors.
Majors that are attracting a growing percentage of The Hooked Up Gen include education, health-related fields, social sciences, computer science, information technology and digital media, fine arts and criminal justice. Many of today's college students are in majors that will ultimately prove unrelated to their career goals. While this was often also the case for previous generations of college students, the key difference is that The Hooked Up Gen already know and admit it. College is, for them, as much a life experience as an education, with internships, study abroad and work-study programs proving more relevant to their eventual career path.
Steffani Russell, a senior majoring in English/Professional Writing, shares a common perspective on the job hunt. Many of Steffani's friends, frustrated with the difficult job market and companies seeking employees with more experience, aren't sure if they'll end up in a career that's related to their chosen field of study. "… [Some students] are just here to get a degree," Steffani said. "They have specific career plans, they know how to get there, and they see a degree––not an education––as the key to reaching their long-term goals.
"I'm at the point where I really enjoy being in school. If I don't have any strong prospects for a job related to English education or writing after I graduate, I'll just go on to grad school." Steffani said she plans to take a combination mission trip/course-for-credit this summer in Africa, and then return to school for her master's degree in English. Her plans are to have "faith that God will provide" an avenue to utilize her education and her skills when the time comes for her to enter the business world full-time.
The common thread among these students is the need to make themselves visible and available to potential employers with an online presence. "If someone wants to see samples of my writing, I can give them links to published articles, online versions of print stories I've gotten published, and my personal blog," Steffani said. "If they want a resume, I can email them the one I want them to see in a heartbeat."
Grad School as an Option
Many students are choosing this option. Graduate school is appealing to grads who can't find their niche in the job market. In the meantime, it provides students with more education and experience in their chosen fields.
However the trend seems to be that graduates are less likely to take the MBA route and are more likely to look for programs modeled around apprentice-like training.
Connecting Grad School and Business
An emerging trend in post-graduate education is to enroll MBA students in dual-degree programs linking an MBA with non-business disciplines such as art and design. The Johns Hopkins University's Carey School of Business has launched a joint MBA/MA in Design Leadership through a partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art, as well as art schools in Canada and Europe.
This generation recognizes the need to understand business, whether they're heading into corporate careers or launching a personal website. They're more inclined to enter programs that will lead to defined professions and jobs instead of open-ended educational programs that provide little value for real-world application. And, as they begin their careers, they will come with experience and an intuitive knowledge base that will qualify them for positions well above typical entry-level training jobs.
Despite this, many will be forced to accept jobs at salaries too low to repay their college loans.
Putting a Meaningful Life Ahead of Money
The Internet has created new job opportunities that are just beginning to be understood and exploited, and these will become increasingly relevant. For example, visual artists have opportunities to distribute and market their work in ways that were unavailable to previous generations of artists. Instead of pursuing the gallery circuit, a young artist can set up a website and social networking page to promote and sell art directly. Online marketplaces such as Etsy.com and Saatchi Online allow artists to reach potential customers. Visual artists have access to online collectives that put them in touch with artists across the globe. Collectives such as SlashThree.com allow digital artists to showcase their work and connect with others working in the same medium.
Different Perspectives on Work Ethics
Members of The Hooked Up Gen are likely to have a more positive attitude and work ethic than older members of their digital generation. Although Pioneer attitudes toward big business, work-life balance and their place in the world are similar to the sense of entitlement of their older age cohort group, they differ in key ways. The Hooked Up Gen express a sense of empowerment that seems to come directly from their perceived ability to make real change happen on a local, national and global scale. They understand the need for hard work, fulfill their commitments, and are sufficiently aware of life's complexities and the need to moderate their expectations and to have realistic goals.
In contrast to the pessimism of consulting firms such as Kelly Staffing, The Hooked Up Gen are unlikely to protest or act out any mistrust through poor job performance. They are more likely to focus on reasonable career goals, applying their technological savvy and gaining the experience they will need to make changes. They will actively apply a deep understanding of social communication to their work, sometimes eliciting results impressive for people so young.
Lifestyles of the Non-Upwardly Mobile
The life model for Generation X and Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" was to commit totally to a job and job security. For the Greatest Generation, this meant mothers in unpaid work at home and fathers who were rarely home.
For Generation X, it meant both parents working long hours outside the home with children in the care of daycare centers, nannies, babysitters, relatives and a string of after-school enrichment activities. More men in this generation have taken an active role in child-rearing, and this pattern will accelerate among The Hooked Up Gen and Natives, who will be more likely to put families ahead of careers, even changing jobs and careers to adjust to changing family requirements.
According to the Bookends Generation study conducted by New York City's Center for Work Life Policy, 89 percent of current college students report valuing flexibility in their work life as among the most important aspects of a happy work environment.
For Baby Boomers, flexibility meant leaving work early to catch their children's ball games or dance recitals. For The Hooked Up Gen, flexibility includes the ability to work from home––or anywhere––as an acceptable option. Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Work Week even suggests putting in a full week's worth of work from a tropical island. As long as the island has wireless connectivity, this scenario is entirely possible for the next wave of Internet-bred corporate managers (assuming they can pay off their student loans and afford to travel).
Their focus on outside-of-work success may lead to a very different work landscape than before, with greater flexibility in how jobs are performed so long as benchmarks are met, and with the need for corporations to demonstrate social responsibility far beyond the degree to which they contribute today. The Hooked Up Gen will be less tolerant of corporate malfeasance and will be aggressively intolerant of a Profit at Any Cost approach to corporate strategy.
Because the generation overall considers global impact as important as financial gain, today's college students may be able to alter the direction of businesses as a whole––first by altering employment policies and later through their influence within the management chain.
Again, the Internet Pioneer generation of college graduates doesn't feel bound to follow the implied contract of job loyalty that served their parents and grandparents. For earlier generations, a college diploma meant a middle-class job and upward mobility. However, a combination of economic recession and overabundance of college-educated candidates means this is no longer true.
The Next Great Generation
Red Tree Leadership, a management training consultancy, describes today's college students as potentially being the "next great generation."
How big businesses choose to deal with this incoming cohort of new team members over the next few years will have a powerful influence on the future of each company. Corporations that underestimate The Hooked Up Gen and Internet Natives do so at their own peril. The Hooked Up Gen have the potential to change, streamline and improve business ethics and communications from the ground up.
The Hooked Up Gen may need guidance from senior colleagues about the politics and social mores within corporations, but senior managers will, in many ways, have far more to learn from their younger colleagues. The Hooked Up Gen have grown up with the ability to multitask, to access information at any hour, and to conduct work from any place with an Internet connection. Many will be willing to work for less money, and even for more hours, if given the flexibility to work on their own schedules with liberal telecommuting opportunities.
Even with the challenging reality of a tough job market for The Hooked Up Gen, they have the values, work ethic and self-esteem to face these challenges with determination and vision. They may initially step back and wait for more appropriate timing––meanwhile accepting roles they perceive as jobs rather than careers. But they will inevitably gain a foothold in small businesses, large corporations, education, government, non-profits, the arts and organizations. Once they gain that foothold, their unique perspectives and skills will enable them to mature quickly in their roles, bring new insights, and move up the career ladder into positions of increased responsibility and authority.
Employers who recognize these individuals and seek their counsel, contributions and ideas will be well rewarded. On the other hand, employers who fail to empower The Hooked Up Gen will find themselves rapidly becoming irrelevant.
Finding Their Way
The Hooked Up Gen prefer to avoid conflict, are uncertain of how their opinions will be received and are, therefore, often reluctant to voice them forcefully. They may, however, begin to find that voice as they move through their college years, gain more confidence, emerge into graduate schools and the workforce, and realize how advantaged they are and how uniquely qualified they will be to manage organizations and direct strategies. The Hooked Up Gen are likely to achieve success following the volatile economic and social climate of the next two decades, more so than the X-Gens who are finding themselves less relevant in a business world that is increasingly digital.
As the nation and world emerge from the period of upheaval caused by the technological inventions of the past two decades, we will move faster and further into the application period of the Internet Transformation. As change accelerates, the need for economic, political, societal and organizational stability will increase.
From our current perspective of economic uncertainty and political dissension, the future may seem hazy. The Hooked Up Gen are just a few years away from imprinting their values on the nation and world.
Their priorities and challenges will be many: to advance logic, honesty and human rights into the corporate mainstream, and to assure that we return to policies that are of, by and for the majority of the American people and the people of the world.
In the coming decades, The Hooked Up Gen and subsequent generations of Internet Natives will dominate the workforce. Those organizations that empower them will be best positioned for success.