As part of the business valuation process, analysts and editors in my department conduct phone interviews with clients to learn more about their companies. I’ve probably performed at least 100 interviews already, but one particular interview stands out as the most memorable in my two-and-a-half years of employment. He was not the most talkative and entertaining client I’ve spoken with, nor was he the most reserved. Instead, I remember this interview because he asked me one simple question.
He asked: “Aldrich, how old are you?”
I slightly hesitated. Should I give a chuckle, make a joke out of it and then deftly change the subject? Should I lie and tell him that I am older than I really am? Or, should I tell him the truth and inform him that the professional on the other end of the line is, in fact, only 25 years of age?
My hesitation came from past situations encountered by my coworkers. Once, a client asked my coworker what his age was and when he replied with “twenty-eight,” the client responded by saying: “I’m relying on a twenty-eight-year-old to value my million-dollar company?” Another coworker informed me that at her old job, her suggestions and advice were often disregarded simply because she was the youngest person at the office. It seemed that even if my coworkers had listed their college degrees, professional titles and the fact that they had years of skill-building experience, others would have doubted their abilities either way, as their ages had already cast a stereotype upon them that they would simply not be efficient workers because they are young.
But should others really be so quick to dismiss the potential of the younger generation? There is a negative perception that a young face implies lack of experience and the inability to work as well as older workers. However, statistics show that may not always be the case. Before you doubt the abilities of a younger worker, keep the following factors in mind.
An educated generation
Even after graduating college, young professionals must spend months—or even years— learning the basics of their new careers. While fresh workers are called rookies for a reason, they most likely possess the educational foundation to make them qualified workers.
According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, young adults 18 to 29 years of age are more educated when compared to older generations at similar ages. Approximately 54 percent of young adults in this age group have at least some college education, compared to 49 percent of those aged 30 to 45 years, 36 percent of those aged 46 to 64 years, and 24 percent of those aged 65 years and older. Young adults in the 18-to-29 age group are also more likely to have completed high school when compared to previous generations at the same age.
Statistically, there are fewer people aged 18 to 29 who actually have a college degree when compared to older generations. However, this is because of the fact that many are still in the process of obtaining a degree. Approximately 19 percent of people in this age group have already graduated from college, while another 26 percent are still in school and plan to graduate, and another 30 percent are not in school but plan to obtain a degree someday.
The economic recession also contributes to the number of young adults with educational degrees. Due to the difficulty of finding job openings, a significant portion of young graduates have re-enrolled in graduate schools, colleges or community colleges to pass the recession. As such, we can expect even more graduates with advanced college degrees entering the workforce in the future.
Based on these numbers, the age 18-to- 29 demographic group has the potential of being the most educated generation so far in U.S. history.
Fresh and open minds Older workers have the advantage of showing off years of professional experience. For younger workers, however, this lack of experience may not necessarily be a detriment. Newly hired workers in the 18-to-29 age group may be considered as a fresh slate —they are a blank canvas that companies can easily alter to suit their needs. Young workers are more open to absorbing a company’s culture unlike newly hired older workers who may be stubborn and insist on retaining their dated methods from past job experiences.
As a whole, younger professionals are also more accepting than older generations. Encouraged by team sports, group-building activities and community service programs, young adults were raised with a civicminded consciousness. Young adults were raised with the mindset to improve their communities, race and gender relationships, the environment, faith and politics. The 18-to-29 demographic group is also ethnically more diverse than any previous generation and displays a high degree of tolerance towards different cultures, lifestyles and behaviors.
This openness translates well into a working environment, as professionals must work with other individuals of varying personalities, dispositions and backgrounds to accomplish a task.
One complaint older workers normally have about the younger generation is that they are arrogant and expect high salaries and respectable positions right from the start. Though this may have been the case in the past, young professionals’ attitudes are starting to shift in the other direction.
Due to recent economic conditions, new graduates are aware of intense job-market competition and are grateful for any employment opportunities. In addition, a 2009 survey conducted by Monster.com reports that 37 percent of workers aged 18-to-29 value balance and flexibility between work/life the most, whereas only 17 percent of young workers consider compensation as their primary working motivator. Unlike older workers who may have demanded more from their companies, young adults count their blessings and are increasingly becoming more flexible than past generations.
In better health
It is no surprise that younger individuals have more physical capabilities than those of older ages—this also affects one’s ability to work. People lose muscle mass with age and a drop in muscle mass means a decrease in strength and an increase in fatigue. Declining physical energy in older workers is also accompanied by a decrease in mental energy, which affects concentration, memory retention and learning processes. Also affecting energy levels are ailments that arise with age, such as heartburn and insomnia, and more serious illnesses such as heart conditions and cancer.
Stressful situations faced by older workers also affect their ability to work. Workers in the older age groups must juggle work and family responsibilities, which is something the 18-to-29 age group does not typically experience until later in life.
Young adults boast an advantage in physical and mental energies. They are also quicker to recover from illnesses and injuries and can therefore return to work sooner than their older counterparts. It’s also worth noting that since the majority of this age group does not have children, they will also spend significantly fewer days calling in to tend to a sick child.
Technology is one of the most defining characteristics of the 18-to-29 age group. If you are of an older generation or have a child in this age group, you most likely have criticized the young for relying too much on technology. However, the younger generation’s dependence on technology can be seen as an advantage in today’s world.
This age group has grown up using computers, cellphones and other gadgets as forms of entertainment and a means of social communication As many businesses are increasingly relying on Web sites and social networking sites to establish business relationships, younger workers’ familiarity with these mediums will prove useful for older workers who do not regularly utilize these forms of communication. Workers in this age group can operate, discover and recommend advanced tools and software, and may even be able to instruct others how to utilize content management systems and social media. Before you spend time waiting for the IT department to come and solve your problem, try asking your younger coworker for help first.
Young adults are also more likely to be “plugged in” every hour of each day by being close to a computer, laptop or smartphone, even after working hours. Thus, if younger workers are contacted with an e-mail or a call during dinner—or even at 11:00 p.m.—they will most likely be readily available to respond.
Success of the younger generation is neither a myth nor an impossible occurrence. Young adults have even demonstrated an ability to found, lead and grow companies to immense levels of success. For example, Google and Facebook—two prominent companies in today’s networking and technological world—were, respectively, founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin at age 23, and by Mark Zuckerberg at age 19. Research also suggests that businesses established by young, college-educated individuals are technologically innovative and are likely to have high growth potential.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors in a younger worker’s success is the desire to succeed. Fresh graduates are eager to prove their worth to the real world. After learning about the financial hardships of previous generations, young adults aged 18 to 29 are ambitious, achievement-oriented and strive to avoid similar mistakes of the past.
While there are certainly many careers and job positions that will benefit from the experience of an older worker, it should not completely discredit the abilities of a younger worker. Even if delegated to starting positions, young professionals may still bring fresh ideas and high energy levels to their companies. Young workers may also be more reliable with better overall health and their constant link to technology, and can contribute to a better working environment with their acceptance of others. The age 18-to-29 demographic group is also on track to be more educated than previous generations at the same age.
If you are ever in a position where you might doubt the potential of a young professional, remember that there may be some lessons a younger adult may be able to teach you. And certainly never forget that everyone starts their working careers the same way: young, eager and ready to prove themselves to the world. Give them a chance.