Flex Time

John Maggs
flex time photo.jpgImage credit: Richard A. Bloom

As assistant Labor secretary for employment and training administration, Jane Oates is responsible for working with the states to hand out unemployment benefits and for overseeing the federal programs that retrain the unemployed and help them find work. But Oates has a still more immediate connection to the challenges facing laid-off or otherwise underemployed Millennials: This spring, her 25-year-old college-educated son became one.

OATES: What happens when you get your dream job at 24? He was a writer for Rotten Tomatoes (the online movie review aggregator). He started in February of 2009, and there were 162 people on staff. There are 53 on staff now.

So he is really struggling with, "What's the next good job?" It's not going to be a 10-year job, and that is the tie-in. The Millennials are going to be very different from you or me as a young person. I started teaching in 1975, and I got a job right out of college, and I thought I was going to be a teacher until I was 65 years old. If I hadn't taken a turn on the path to go more into policy, I'd still be teaching. I would never have been without a job. But I don't think that is going to happen for many Millennials.

What can your office do to respond to the needs of Millennials?

OATES: I think our workforce system is not very responsive to Millennials. We're square; we're old. So what we did this year is, we put out the Job Seekers Challenge, where we invited people, known and unknown, to put forward their job-aggregator tools. We wanted to know what ways there were out there to advertise jobs. So we had, I think, 600 tools, from the Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com guys all the way down to the moms and pops that were thinking things up in their garages. (You can find the results of the challenge, including the top-rated job-search sites in each of six categories, here.)

We're [also] really looking at credentials. What are the credentials that help people get jobs? What are the credentials that help people make more money? Right now, we have a million credentials out there, and five smart people couldn't agree on what the best ones were.... When we talk about high-tech manufacturing, when we talk about green jobs, what are the credentials that will get somebody moved up at an accelerated pace in that industry?

What are Millennials going to need to do differently to succeed in the workforce?

OATES: They are going to need to be masters of detail on their résumés, because old folks are going to look at someone job-hopping and think there is something wrong with the employee. [Millennials] are going to have to document on their résumés, "Why was it beneficial to have these experiences rather than to stay in one job longer?"

I think they are going to have to be much better communicators than we ever were. They are going to have to be able to sell themselves, and convince an employer that they are the one to take a risk on.

And I think they are going to have to be always looking for their next job, something that I never did. They are much more vulnerable to layoffs, much more vulnerable to collapses with new businesses, much more vulnerable to having to move around.

They are going to have to take joy in relocation. But they are a generation that is much more global in their thinking. They are color-blind, they are gender-blind, they really don't have the biases many of us grew up with. So if any generation can withstand the pressures coming out of this recession, they are built to do it.

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