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MILLENNIALS' MOMENT: The future is now

Millennials aren't just in the workplace — they are getting ready to take over. Are you ready? Many of your competitors are.

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Audible's Don Katz: “(Employees) need to see that opportunity to move.”
Audible's Don Katz: “(Employees) need to see that opportunity to move.” - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

If you're looking for an expert on millennials in the workplace, you might want to start with Susan Ascher.

She wrote the book on it. Actually, two books. And if you look at the titles — “Dude, Seriously, It's Not All About You” and “Dude, Seriously, Get Your ASK in Gear” — she certainly appears to be able, quite literally, to talk the talk.

But before you celebrate that someone is finally taking those millennials to task (There's more to life than Twitter!), know this: Ascher, the president and CEO of The Ascher Group consulting firm in the Short Hills section of Millburn, has plenty of good things to say about millennial employees.

And plenty of warnings for employers.

“Millennials are going to lead in an unprecedented way by educating one another, team building, being transparent and embracing differences,” she said.

Employers need to ask, she said, “What is it that we can learn from millennials that we can weave into the fabric of our own management teams?”

Seriously?

Seriously.

If you still view millennials as overgrown adolescents who live in their parents' basement and won't be as dedicated to their companies as they are to their causes, you better think again.

Your competitors sure have.

Don Katz, the 62-year-old CEO of Newark-based Audible.com, has embraced millennials in the workplace.

The average age at his company is 33. He credits that youthful exuberance as one of the main reasons he has grown from 125 employees in 2007 to more than 600 today — and that he was able to survive the tech bubble at all.

A not-so-secret to his success has been embracing a millennial ideal by creating an environment where talented young employees can see and achieve quick steps up the corporate ladder.

“Because of the economy, people trying to come into even an entry-level customer-care position often have quite privileged educations,” Katz said. “They need to see that opportunity to move.”

Audible did just that recently with Will Lopes, who started in such a position and is now at the helm of the international expansion operation in London.

Jay Ibrahim and his two partners at Parker Ibrahim and Berg in Somerset share that same philosophy.

They opened the firm in February 2011 with the idea that employee retention will be a big part of their success — and feel their perks are a reason they have added 88 employees without losing many.

They have added two offices in other states. And have plans for two more.

“We're a law firm, so we're going to work long hours,” Ibrahim said. “It's our job to make sure this is a place people want to be.

“Loyalty is a two-way street.”

RETAINING THEIR LOYALTY

Millennials, defined by NJBIZ as those born between 1979 and 1993, aren't a small group. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates their population is around 80 million, slightly larger than the baby boomers.

And then there's this: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts millennials will become the majority of the workforce in the United States by 2020.

Numbers like these leave little choice for employers but to open the door.

But — at least if you trust the list of preconceptions stapled onto this population — millennials are just as likely to walk right back out of it.

“And, honestly, I don't blame the millennials for it,” said Robert Formisano, a 31-year-old financial adviser for Morgan Stanley in Lawrenceville.

“It was once the case that you'd want to stick to one place for your entire career,” he added. “Now it may be harder to advance internally than it would be to just move to somewhere else.”

So how do you stop that migration?

Millennials often will say companies can start with wellness perks, such as a free gym membership and the ability to do volunteer work on company time. But, ultimately, it may come down to the job.

“Am I being challenged? Am I learning?” Millennials generally haven't bought into “paying your dues.” They want mentoring opportunities — something that allows for personal and professional betterment that applies outside their current job.

Melanie Cenicola, 24, is the marketing and events coordinator for the New Jersey Young Professionals group. She feels if a job has little to offer in terms of résumé building, her generation is not likely to stay.

“It's better to not be doing something mundane,” she said. “If my tasks are different, then it will keep my interest better and I'll be more productive. I feel like I'm learning and that it's actually beneficial for me.”

But don't think that necessarily will lead to loyalty — not after experiencing a decade in which they may have struggled to get a job or watched their parents struggle to find one after getting laid off.

“Millennials have grown up in a disposable society … so I still don't know that we're going to (retain) all of them,” Ascher said.

SHOW THEM THE MONEY

Most college graduates entering the workforce in today's economy aren't seeing big paychecks at their first job.

But that's not true for all of them. And don't think millennials will be so grateful you gave them a job that they will work for little return just because they are young.

Millennials have seen so many of their cohorts become millionaires (and billionaires) because they understood something the older folks didn't: technology.

Temporary and freelance work-placement firms are seeing high wages and prospects galore among roles that weren't around 10 years ago — such as social media, search engine optimization and mobile app development.

“People with technical expertise can almost put their employer at their mercy,” said Chris Miller, division director for the Creative Group, a staffing agency.

Miller has seen firsthand the compensation some companies have had to pay.

For example, a recent graduate who specialized in Apple iOS development landed some contract work. When a company hired him full-time, it had to pay him more than $100,000 in salary.

Plus, Miller said, “he was an early-morning guy, so he'd come in at 6 a.m., work until about noon, then zone out. So they actually let him leave to go surf, eat lunch, take a nap and then return to work later.

“The company figured out when he was most effective, and they're running with it,” he added. “We're not working within the boundaries of a typical business anymore.”

Miller has seen young, somewhat inexperienced individuals with solid tech backgrounds get jobs over candidates with more than 20 years of experience on three separate occasions in the past 30 days.

“It left us scratching our heads,” he said. “Here were these people with literally the least experience taking the roles over everybody else.”

FINDING PEACE

Dan McElwee sees the relationship from both sides.

As executive vice president at Ventura Wealth Management in Ewing Township, he understands the desires of company leaders.

But at just 29 years old, he obviously understands the attitudes of his fellow millennials.

McElwee believes the millennials are serving their duty by offering a fresh perspective to employers. He said his most rewarding workplace experiences have been when he advocated for improvements that only a millennial would be truly resolute about.

“I have been able to say, 'This is technology that we need, and this is why we need it,' ” he said. “It has been received in a very positive light. I don't get pushback for suggesting things like a new website or a new blog or different ways to do social media.”

Of course, he understands there are everyday business realities, too.

McElwee thinks young workers could learn some lessons that would make those fretting their impending workplace takeover perhaps feel a little more at ease.

“As millennials, we have to admit that we don't always know best,” he said. “Yes, we are probably the most hip technology generation ever. We grew up with computers in our hands. But sometimes we need the older generations to keep us in check.”

E-mail to: brettj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @reporterbrett
Tom Bergeron, Meg Fry and Andrew Sheldon contributed to this report.

NJBIZ's general generation breakdown

The millennials
The millennial generation refers to those born after 1979; noted for their technological exceptionalism, just as insufferable to others for it.

Generation X
Generation X covers people born from 1965 through 1978. Pew Research reports that Gen-X is commonly depicted as “savvy, entrepreneurial loners.”

Baby boomers
The baby boomer label is drawn from the spike in fertility that began in 1946, after the end of World War II. Work ethic is what they’re all about.

Silent generation
The Silent Generation describes adults born from 1928 through 1945. Children of the Great Depression, their “silent” label refers to their conformist and civic instincts.

SOURCE: The Pew Research Center

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Brett Johnson

Brett Johnson

Brett Johnson covers a wide array of sectors as a general assignment reporter. Before joining NJBIZ in 2014, he lived on the West Coast and wrote for a newspaper in Davis, Calif. You can contact him at brettj@njbiz.com or @ReporterBrett on Twitter.

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