Different Strokes: Employing and working with millennials, part 2

By Stephen Carr | Mar 15, 2016
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Last month, I started a conversation about millennials. As a group, they are very important. According to Pew Research, millennials already represent the largest portion of today’s available workforce and will overtake baby boomers later this year as the largest generational population group in the United States.

I want to assure you that this is not meant to be an attack on millennials. It is an attempt to understand and succeed with the employees we may already be hiring and those we will definitely hire in the future. We have to recognize that millennials are as different from the generation that preceded them as you were different from the generation that preceded you. Understanding those differences is crucial to hiring the right people for your company.

Just a reminder about stereotypes: they do not apply to everyone. For instance, although millennials are known as the most educated generation, they do not all go to college. Also, they are not all destined to work in a big technology company or in an IT department. Many of them are interested in the trades.

Hiring an estimator has always been a complex task. Whether they come from the field or the management side, training (or untraining) will be required. Hiring an established or experienced estimator may necessitate even more training for them to perform the job the way you, their supervisor, will want it done. 

When it comes to millennials, you may need to change the way you interview. Generation Y is more interested than past generations in things such as company culture, technology, philanthropic activities and engaging (not boring) work. You have to find out what they want and decide if you want to meet some or all of those interests. If you want to hire a particular candidate, you will have to make your company look attractive to him or her.

The questions

Here are some of the questions I was left with after writing last month’s article. Are millennials so different they cannot work in an electrical contractor’s office? Are they willing to start as trainees or apprentices at lower wages? As many estimators come from the field, is Generation Y willing to start in the field and work their way up to the office? Will they work where and when you need them? Finally, are they willing to commit to staying more than a couple of years?

Let’s address the last question first. One of the stereotypes about millennials is that they prefer to start their own companies. This appears to be changing. A recent survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, in association with the Washington Post, indicates, by a slight majority, that younger millennials (18–29) are now more interested in finding a stable job. This is possibly due to the economic instability they graduated into and the college loan debt they graduated with. This may change the stereotype that Generation Y employees only stay at a job 2 to 2½ years on average.

Regarding the question about starting as a trainee, I believe we can use millennials’ desire for rapid advancement to our advantage. Many estimators come from the field. Some candidates go through the standard apprenticeship program to gain field experience before coming into the office. An employer may be able to design a program that is acceptable to both the candidate and the employer.

Keeping them happy

Continuing education is another way to keep millennial employees happy. This was one of the most important parts of my training and advancement. My employers encouraged me to take all sorts of classes, including estimating, management, project management, change orders and claims management. On my own, I went back to college to take technology courses. These classes are all about advancement and keeping the job interesting.

Geographical location was not covered by many of the resources I researched. While interviewing employers, I found that problems varied according to region. For instance, companies around the San Francisco Bay Area had problems with new hires that pretty much followed the stereotypes about millennials, while employers in southern Texas did not. This observation makes it clear that employers must understand the labor pool they are drawing from and adjust accordingly.

The toughest question regards where and when Generation Y wants to work. A 2013 study concluded that 92 percent of millennials want to work whenever they like, and 87 percent want to work 
wherever they like. As I wrote last month, our industry operates during normal business hours. We have to be available to the field, our clients and our vendors, so these issues will remain problems.

About The Author

CARR has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or [email protected], and read his blog at

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