Thursday, February 27, 2014

Millennials, Leadership, and the Future of Our Communities

Every generation worries that ensuing younger generations might not subscribe to current, predominant cultural norms and institutions; the younger folks might disrupt or overhaul the status quo. Even baby boomers who once sloganized, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” now find themselves part of “the establishment,” wondering about the values, motivations, and lifestyles of people in their 20s and 30s, not to mention intrigued by younger people’s facile use of technology and social media which create new forms of social interaction.

Change comprises the only constant in life. And, as Trista Harris, president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, told us  recently at the Minnesota Compass Annual Meeting, the lack of conformity to existing norms does not portend disaster. It simply reflects new ways of adapting to the challenges of the world.

Our meeting focused on millennials (people between 14 and 33) because they constitute the most recently emerging adult generation. All generations have impacts on the present and the future. All deserve our attention. The millennials have just begun (or will soon begin) to spread their adult wings; they will comprise a major portion of the parents, workers, consumers, business and community leaders throughout the world during the next half century. So, we need to learn about this new generation.

One fact with which you can impress friends and colleagues: Which generation in Minnesota is currently the largest? The digitals? The millennials? Generation X? The baby boomers? Or the greatest generation? Actually, the millennials, born 1981 to 2000, now outnumber the boomers, born 1946 to 1964.

Compass staff, Jane Tigan (a millennial) and Craig Helmstetter (an X-er), offered information about the millennials. For example:

  • Higher Education: Minnesota’s millennials rank high, relative to other states: 39% of those between 25 and 34 have at least a bachelor's degree, resulting in a 7th place ranking compared to other states (and MSP ranks 5th among the nation’s 25 largest metros). But large racial gaps persist for degree attainment.
  • Employment & Income: millennials experienced the great recession severely and remain among those still reeling. However, in making historical comparisons, we see a mixed picture: millennial women are much more likely to be employed than were young female boomers; millennial men are slightly less likely to be employed than were Gen X-ers and boomers when they entered the workforce.
  • Civic Engagement: Despite the fact that millenials are the generation least likely to vote or volunteer, Minnesotas millennials nonetheless engage in these civic activities at rates higher than their age-peers in other states.
Allison Liuzzi, of Compass, and Marilee Grant,  Minnesota director of community relations, Boston Scientific, shed a lot of light on the topic of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) – trends in STEM occupations, the importance of STEM education, and STEM interest and achievement among students. They noted:

  • The demand for STEM workers will grow faster than the demand for other types of workers.
  • Our most rapidly growing population of young people (that is, young people of color) express stronger interest in STEM careers, and engage in more STEM extra-curricular activities, compared with white young people. However, they tend to become short-circuited before entering STEM occupations.

It’s exciting to see how Minnesota Compass has provided a platform for organizations working on STEM to share information, raise awareness, and foster collaboration. Their initiatives constitute critical and significant efforts to strengthen the workforce, address educational disparities in Minnesota, and ultimately improve the quality of life for all people.

Jennifer Ford Reedy, president of the Bush Foundation, urged, if not cautioned, us to develop a holistic perspective on social trends – positive and negative. We tend to notice, discuss, and remember the negatives. However, this can bias our perspectives and inhibit creativity in promoting improvements. So, for example, a strategy to increase STEM competence in our workforce must build on the positive: that many children, especially children of color, have STEM interests early in life. Or, workforce planning regarding the millennial generation should capitalize on the positive: the relatively high proportion of young adult Minnesotans with bachelor’s degrees.

The Compass team looks forward to another year of engagement in activities to build our communities in Minnesota.

[Resources from the annual meeting are available on the Compass website, including full talks by Trista Harris and Jennifer Ford Reedy, and several blogs providing millennials’ perspectives on what the data mean and how they might use the data to have an impact on Minnesota’s future.]