This week, I’ve seen maybe a dozen articles about “Millennials”. What do they want? Why aren’t they buying houses? What brands do they like? Why don’t they vote? What’s their favorite color? They’re mostly all written by people from the Baby Boomer generation, and they’re mostly filled with generalizations and assumptions like “all Millennials care about is texting each other.” Seriously, that was a comment. Not even a clever burn. Like offensively non-clever.
First, a definition: Millennials are people born between 1983 and 2003, give or take some years depending on who you ask. To define a generation does sound a little generalize-y on the surface, but people born during this span of time do have a lot of things in common: they’re typically more open-minded about social issues, they marry and have children much later (if at all), they’re less likely to be religious, they have more student loan debt than any generation before, and they’re described as liberal do-gooders by some and self-entitled narcissists by others. Again, speaking in terms of statistics based on this twenty year time span.
And people are desperately seeking to understand them. To market to them, campaign to them, sell to them…basically, to communicate with them.
I feel like this is a topic worth exploring for the video industry because the Millennial generation is clearly dealing with a lot of factors that Baby Boomers and Gen X did not, just as those generations were affected in ways that their parents were not. Millennials go to the previous generation for life and career advice (which is great, the best way to learn) but there’s a disconnect when it comes to applicable advice.
Some facts evergreen: work hard, keep learning, understand the theory. But a lot of specific advice can’t be handed down like in other careers because the industry has changed so much, and it seems like older people mistake this disconnect for arrogance. All of our jobs as we know them didn’t even exist thirty years ago, and Millennials came of age in the digital video world. As the era of the hundred thousand dollar Avid suite was winding down, I was creating videos at home on a consumer Dell computer. This inherently gives me a different perspective on the industry, and it’s hard to wade through knowing what’s “right” instinctively and being told what’s “right” historically or cynically.
In an effort to help mitigate the generational divide, here are some things about the Millennial Video Producer (or shooter or editor or whatever) that I know to be true more often than not.
1. We’re more interested in happiness than financial stability — at least, so far. In a Millennial Branding report, 45% of respondents chose job flexibility over pay and 72% want a job where they have an impact. Millennials are highly entrepreneurial and generally like to see themselves making some kind of change. There’s some conflicting information about just how civic-minded Millennials actually are, but it’s definitely easy to see the social patterns reflected in the kinds of businesses they align themselves with.
A statistic like this really seems to make Baby Boomers’ heads spin, spitting words like “selfish” and self-entitled” despite the fact these young people are saying they want to make change happen. There’s a generational shift away from prioritizing family first: in ONE way. One could easily argue that by pursuing the things that make a person happy, they are doing more for their family life than they ever would being utterly miserable but financially stable.
2. We’re generally under-employed and kind of resent it, especially since we’re very educated. A lot of Millennials (the most educated age group after the economic downturn according to the Department of Labor) started their careers (or tried to) at the downturn of the economy in 2008, graduating from college to find job postings that contained such comedy as “entry-level editor: 5 years experience required.” Pair that with the fact they have the highest amount of student loan debt any generation has seen (nearly 40% of debt for people in their 20s according to a recent analysis by TransUnion) and it’s no wonder they’re being a little more careful about buying homes or moving out of their parents’ place altogether. Which sucks, considering most Millennials spent their childhoods being told that a degree was the key to a career.
After the worst of the recession had passed, employers remained cautious about the job market, not hiring and not paying pre-2008 wages, either because they hadn’t recovered or didn’t want to take any risks, or maybe just because they could get away with it. A note of personal experience here: when I started college at Indiana University, I was told that no student left the program without three or four job offers on the table. When I was in my last couple months of school four years later and hadn’t gotten so much as a rejection from any potential employers, I asked my advisor what I should do. He laughed and said “gosh, I don’t know. Maybe go to grad school to wait out the economy.” No doubt a temporary solution that too many people in my generation took advantage of and are paying dearly for, literally. For a lot of them, it was probably worthwhile. For this industry? Not so much unless you wanted to pursue a teaching career.
3. We’re likely to freelance. A recent survey by Elance found that 83% of Millennials say working independently or freelancing is a part of their career strategy. Coming from a blue-collar family heavily involved in the automotive industry, I can’t imagine any of my previous generations talking about freelancing as a major part of their long term career goals. That’s completely bananas. Maybe it’s a result of increased self-reliance, being conditioned to poor economic times, or just a decreased willingness to work for The Man since he’s not paying you anyway (and often not giving you insurance or other benefits), but more of this generation is looking to make it on their own and work for multiple clients at once.
And it’s definitely possible, especially with healthcare reform providing (sometimes arguably) affordable ways for sole proprietors to manage their own health insurance. From subscription based software and workstations that are within financial reach, a lower cost of doing independent business all around hasn’t been great for brick and mortar video production, but freelancers in many parts of the country are thriving, especially if they’re as connected as Millennials. In a few years, 50% of the workforce will be Millennials, and many are predicting a cultural shift from the 9 to 5.
4.To finish the point of the last bullet, we’re unlikely to settle in and spend twenty years with an employer. Millennials have been cited as the job-hopping generation, looking to get lots of different kinds of experiences instead of settling in to one employer for the entirety of our careers. We’re used to an uncertain job market, so we value exploration over making our way up the ranks in one company that may not even exist in ten years from our perspective. According to a 2012 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median time spent at a job for someone 25-34 years old was about three years. Most people I know have already had three or four jobs, if they took full-time work at all.
And especially for a video producer of some sort, the allure of freelancing usually includes a more diverse portfolio and more chances to learn new techniques — something that we’ve been told time and time again is very important if we want to make it in this industry.
5. We value individualism and that doesn’t make us (all) narcissists. Yeah, we share our lives online like an open book and take selfies and spend hours a day looking at screens. But one thing our parents seemed to do for us is give us a good sense of self-esteem. Or maybe they drove us so crazy, we collectively rebelled. Either way, this individualism plays into the freelancing spirit and career exploration, but it also means that Millennials are marrying and reproducing later and less often (with a Pew study reporting that 25% of Millennials don’t wish to ever get married.). And that’s not good or bad, it’s just a generational fact that home life in our 20s is very different than home life in your 20s might have been.
6. We like you but we kind of hope you can retire soon. Look, we know that the retirement age is going up. Boomers don’t want to retire, either because they can’t or they just don’t feel like it’s time. That’s cool. Yay, people are healthy and living longer. But dang, nobody wants to be a 40 year old junior editor, probably. The post-recession job postings asking for a million years of advice for newbie pay are still pretty common, and those jobs are being filled by you guys, which sucks just as much for you as it does for us. I see a lot of people say they’re getting beat for work by young people, but plenty of young people are being passed over for older people who can’t leave the industry yet.
Which is likely a major reason so many Millennials are going solo with their careers pretty early. May as well control your own fate, right? But whether it’s a staff gig or freelance work, we hope the economy works itself out so you can retire and we can take your jobs. In the mean time, you can’t blame us for being aggressive.
So what I’m trying to say here is that the Millennials are coming and they want to learn from your experiences, but there’s always going to be a gap. The gap isn’t arrogance or self-entitlement, but rather a pile of a whole mess of other kinds of experiences that shaped us, each with their own benefits and challenges. There’s an assumption that things are so much easier now for young people, with the low cost of of entry and the wide availability of tools. But while we’re not fighting through the analog to digital transition or spending life savings on computers, there are a lot of challenges: a highly saturated market that includes the original experienced pros, an economy less willing to put money into video production, and a culture that requires instant gratification for work. So we thank you for what you did to get us to this point and we want to learn from you, but just don’t mistake our generational differences for something more malicious.