AWWA Articles

Millennials bring optimism, diversity to workforce

This is a summary of a January 2019 article in AWWA’s Opflow, “Millennials Are Motivated to Make a Difference,” by Jeanne M. Jensen, P.E., senior project manager, Town of Gilbert, Ariz.

Millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996 - are now the largest generation in the United States. Because of their impact in the workplace, it’s helpful for water sector employers to Millennial name tagconsider factors that may support the professional paths of people currently between the ages of 23 and 38.  

This generation spans the era of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, Operation Desert Storm, the end of the Cold War, widespread internet access, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the Great Recession. These events “signaled the globalization of our modern experience,” Jensen states in her article.

According to a 2010 Pew Research study, “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next,” 54% of millennials have some college education compared to 36% of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). “Millennials are one of the most educated U.S. generations in history,” Jensen said.

The Pew study also indicated that 11% of millennials have at least one parent who is an immigrant, compared with 5% of baby boomers. “The millennial generation is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in modern U.S. history,” stated Jensen.

Another Pew study finding is that fewer millennials live in rural areas – 14 percent compared to 29 percent of baby boomers. “This shift in residency changes the experiences millennials have faced growing up,” states Jensen.

Jeanne JensenThese demographic factors “make millennials a uniquely interconnected generation,” states Jensen. “Their interdependence shows in several ways, including frequent technology and social media use, an emphasis on volunteerism, and optimistic viewpoints about the future.” (Photo credit: Jeanne Jensen)

While it’s important to recognize that generational factors don’t supersede individual experiences and histories, millennials are optimistic about opportunities for change, Jensen says. According to a 2013 study by Telefonica, S.A., “Today’s Young Adults: Leaders of Tomorrow,” 83% of U.S. millennials believe they can make a difference in their communities.

From a workplace perspective, “water utilities can support that latent call to service many millennials reflect in their core values,” Jensen states. “Be sure to emphasize the valuable role water utilities play in protecting public health.”

She added, “For best results, focus on open, real communication; provide flexibility; recognize that family structures at home drive the job and career paths an individual may take; and make opportunities available to provide input.”