The Parallel Careers of Millennials

It goes without saying that several people are currently working at jobs they don’t like. But that may not be as big of a deal-breaker as it once was. By 2020 Millennials will make up 46% of the workforce according to the Young Entrepreneur Council, and they’ve already shown that they won’t let their careers define who they are. Quite the contrary – they are more likely to stay in a job that’s not ideal, if it enables their personal pursuits.

Big Dreams

Gen-Y was the generation that was told they could do anything, and watched peers like Mark Zuckerberg drop out of Harvard to start billion-dollar businesses. They also watched their parents get downsized, rightsized, and all manner of other euphemisms. They watched a financial crisis collapse the economy just as they were entering the job market en masse. They know you need them a lot more than they need you, in other words, and they’re not about to give up their personal goals to be another cog in the machine.

“This generation of Millennials does not identify with one company or career. They don’t work for IBM, but instead build smart computers. It might be a slight difference in semantics, but it underlines that their priorities are on their own skill set, and not on their employer.”

That’s Larissa Faw writing for Forbes. She goes on to say that economic factors and a shift of work-life priorities have contributed to a newer, “relaxed” definition of a career. The career track is no longer a straight rail, it’s a system of branching paths that can change direction at any moment, and there can be parallel tracks as well. Because of this, Gen-Y have earned a reputation as entitled job-hoppers that wreak havoc on HR departments, mythical recruitment unicorns that scatter and disappear into the forest at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction.

21st Century Hustle

But people tend to underestimate Gen-Y, and ignore the fact that many of them are hustling to survive in a 21st Century economy. They know that doing what you love sometimes means taking a day job to pay the bills, and they want employers to have no illusions about that. They have skills that can be put to use and if you’re willing to pay them, you get the goods, with the understanding that it’s not a marriage contract.

There has to be flexibility and work/life balance. Millennials take day jobs to afford them more freedom, not narrow their options by locking them down to a specific career path. For 28 year-old Therese Schamotta, a young professional profiled on thewhig.com, developing her skills with multiple employers was far more valuable than her base pay:

“For me, it’s not necessarily about the money. It’s about quality of life. Do I want to spend the rest of my life at a boring job so I’m prepared in my old age? It’s about give and take,” Schamotta says, adding, “I don’t have to be in one place all the time.”

Therese honed her skills in IT, staffing, management, administration, and public speaking while working as an executive assistant at several disparate companies. Nowadays she uses her talents to operate her own property management company, freelance administrative projects, and sell her artwork to tattoo artists.

Benign Indifference

So the moral of the story is be careful not to confuse a lack of desire for disengagement. Indifference can be benign. If an employee doesn’t seem to be interested in climbing the corporate ladder, he or she may be working on their own ladder parallel to yours – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some young workers take a job not knowing where they want to end up, then grow into a role within the organization. Some quit abruptly only to become valuable re-hires or freelancers down the road. Connecting with them early on and getting an idea of their personal goals is the only way to find out what truly motivates them, and can help you get the most out of their skills.