Transforming the way the world works.

The March of the Millennials

January 1, 2011 marked a significant milestone in North America for it was the date the oldest members of the baby boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday and thus marked a watershed moment. From that day forward for about the next 20 years, there is the potential for 10,000 boomer retirements a day.

Any contractor that is interested in recruiting and maintaining a viable workforce should take heed to this fact and begin preparations to replace their aging workforces. Those preparations should begin with looking at the next generation of construction industry workforce; cue the millennials.

Who are the millennials and why should contractors care about them? The millennials are the generation born in North America between the years of 1982 and 2002. They are also referred to as Generation-Y or the Echo Boomers.  This group is much larger than the boomer generation (80-90 million of them!) and represents a powerful generation of workers that will influence and shape the future of our workplaces. The construction industry will need the energy and talent this group has to offer in order to sustain their growth. In order to successfully recruit, retain and manage this cohort, contractors will need to learn about this group and to adjust their workplaces to accommodate them. To better understand them, we’ll need to recognize some of their key traits.


Like all generations that preceded them, the millennial generation was raised in an environment that helped to shape their behavior and traits. The parents of this generation have been the most protective in history and this has resulted in the development of unique traits. Some of the more notable ones are:

Sense of Specialness - This generation has always been treated as special and important.  Every milestone was celebrated with praise, regardless of the significance. They have a higher sense of entitlement and have been conditioned to expect frequent positive feedback.

Sheltered - This generation was highly protected as children and grew up in an era of increased safety measures such as car seats, bike helmets, SPF 60 sunscreen and sanitizer lotions. They were rarely left unsupervised and often spared the unpleasantness of life through parental intervention wherever possible.

Confident – This generation is motivated, goal-oriented and confident about themselves and their future. They have a strong connection with their parents and teachers. They are assertive and have conviction in their thoughts. They will not remain in a job for long if they feel the contributions they are making are not meaningful and significant. The risk of being out of work will not deter them for they have an incredibly strong support network that begins with their parents.

Team-Oriented – The individualistic approach of Generation-X made way for the communal, group-oriented approach of this group. They are a tight-knit generation that wished to be seen as belonging to a group rather than a stand out among their peers. They have a strong orientation towards service and volunteerism and shun selfishness. They are incredibly social and are instrumental in the rise of social media. Social activism is very high on their agendas and evident in campaigns like the recent worldwideKony 2012 campaign.

Civic Minded – They believe in authority and believe the government knows best and will take care of them. They would rather conform than not. They value their parents’ opinions very highly and invite social conventions and would rather see the return of rules back into culture. Their views are more in line with their parents’ values.

Risk Averse – The protective environment they were raised in has resulted in their aversion to taking risks. They have a lower sense of personal responsibility and are very reliant on people telling them what they need to do. This group is not very good at accepting end-line responsibility.


Now that we understand the traits of this generation, let us examine what employers can do to better manage these traits.

Set Them Free - Studies have shown that millennials have a preference for workplace flexibility over higher salary. In the engineering and construction industries, less than a third of them expect to work regular office hours. With these expectations, employers will need to adapt and provide flexibility that is so sought after.   They work well with clear instructions and concrete targets so why not give them the flexibility to complete these tasks by a deadline.

Foster Teamwork - This is the most connected generation in history and thrive in an environment where there are included and working as part of a team rather than individual performances. It would be wise to structure their involvement with others in a team approach and to avoid placing them in roles that have them working in solitude.

Lead Them - This is a generation that, from childhood, has been told what to do by their parents and teachers. They have a desire for leadership and are comfortable in situations where the rules are clearly defined and the steps to success clearly articulated.

Guide Them - Millennials crave special treatment and close contact with their managers.  They will thrive in in organizations that offer personalized guidance. Companies that already have formalized mentorship programs are ahead of the curve. Placing a millennial in a situation that lacks support and a high level of feedback is a recipe for failure.