Workers' Revolution? By 2020, Millennials Will Be 70 Percent of the Global Workforce

Former Chief Learning Officer at LinkedIn, Kelly Palmer identifies an unstoppable trend: millennials are a growing proportion of the workforce. Here's how millennials will change the future of work.

Kelly Palmer:  In regards to the future of work I think we’re seeing a lot of changes come – becoming apparent especially with so many millennials in the workforce. At LinkedIn for example we’ve got about 65 percent of our employees are millennials and I think by 2020 across the world it’s supposed to be around 70 percent millennials. So definitely we have to make some adjustments in the future workplace based on the majority of the workforce that’s coming, that’s going to be in the workforce. So I think that millennials if we look at how they work and how they like to work I think flexibility and being agile and being able to be flexible in how they work and what projects they work on is going to be incredibly important and to be continuously learning. If you bring it back to learning there’s new technologies that are coming out all the time and if you’re not agile especially agile with learning you’re not going to be able to keep up on the skills that you need. It’s not like in the past where you could go to school, learn a set of skills and those skills were good for you for your whole career. Now you have to be constantly learning in order to keep pace with that. So I think the workplaces have to take that into account and provide the learning that people need so that they can be – so that they can be successful on their jobs. I think another thing that is really changing in terms of the future of work is this notion of the employer-employee compact. And the agreement that it used to be that employees would stay with their company for their whole careers or for a large part of their careers.

And it’s just not true anymore. People tend to stay at companies for I think typically, you know, two to four years, maybe five to seven years. But it’s not a lifetime. And so the future of work should be about being able to realize that that’s the fact and to meet employees where they’re at with that. So the founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman actually wrote a book called The Alliance and it’s exactly about this concept. And there’s this notion that you could actually have open, honest and constructive conversations with employees about doing tours of duty at your company. So let me give you an example. Say I hire somebody in and I’ve got a project for them to work on. I’ve got this vision of what this role could be for the next two years. We sign up for what we call a tour of duty and we say okay, for the next two years you’re going to give us your all – all your skills, experience and give us your hundred percent. And we as a company in return will totally invest in you. We’ll make sure you get the learning that you need, that you get to build new skills, gain new expertise and have great experience while you’re here. And at the end of that two years we can get back together and say okay, that was a great tour of duty. Now do we maybe want to go on another tour of duty here at LinkedIn or is your next play outside of LinkedIn. And whichever that is it’s okay to have that conversation and we’ll help you regardless. And so I think that that’s scary for employers, you know, for a lot of employers to think that they would be able to have that kind of conversation. But the reality is is what happens today is people just start looking for new jobs on their own. They don’t talk to their manager about it. By the time they’ve gone and interviewed and gotten that far down the path maybe they’re taking a new job. Whereas if you could have the conversation about next plays with your employees you have a better chance of actually keeping them on if that’s a good fit for both of you.

It was not so long ago that a person would work at one job, one company, for decades at a time until retirement. But in today's economy, where industries and individual companies rise and fall more quickly than ever before, job markets are less stable. As a result, the millennial generation has become known for staying at one job for just a few years before moving on to better and brighter opportunities. Millennials are now beginning to saturate the workforce, graduating from college and starting their careers. Kelly Palmer, former Chief Learning Officer of LinkedIn, says that millennials will make up half the US workforce, and 70 percent of the global workforce, by 2020. Many will look for companies to employ them, and those companies will likewise recruit talented employees. Retaining the talent they hire, however, has become a challenge as millennials want more from their job than a steady paycheck. They want education, flexibility, and meaning. As Palmer explains, rather than feel abandoned by a millennial who goes looking for new work, a company should have an honest conversation with their young employees about what their expectations are for employment. She calls this talking about "tours of duty," wherein an employee knows precisely what to expect, and how the company will invest in him or her over two or three years. After that "tour" is up, they can decide whether to continue their engagement. So instead of planning for ten years down the line, they can work together planning just a few years, and then coming back together to plan for another few years if all goes well. And this can help make the future for both hands a little bit more safe and comfortable. It’s not that millennials want Facebook breaks at work or time to tweet. Instead, what a work place can do is respect their incoming employees, give them time to learn the ropes, and help prepare them for a future in the workforce. Millennials tend to have a jaded expectation of the future, raised with one of the biggest generational debts in American history, and with the knowledge only a recession can offer.

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