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Adapting To An Economy In Flux

Millennials make up the largest share of the labor force, but changing technology is making the job search more difficult.

This story is part of a series on re-entering the workforce. View the other stories here.

The workplace is changing at a rapid pace.

Employees have to learn how to use new technology every day. Jobs can often be more short-term and project-oriented, and companies are looking for people who not only have the skills to fill today’s positions but who are able to think ahead and shape how business is done in the future.

Those factors present a challenge for students just graduating from college and looking for jobs, but it can also present enormous opportunities for those in the millennial generation.

A Success Story

Mitch Ennis’ fingers glide deftly over the keys of a large grand piano in Indiana University’s Memorial Union. A few years ago he imagined himself here, studying classical piano at the world-renowned Jacob School of Music.

“It’s something I’ve loved to do all my life, but freshman, sophomore year, I sat down with my piano teacher, my parents and kind of figured business in some capacity was more appropriate,” he says.

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Becoming a business major instead of a music major would provide more job security and likely more money, so after he graduated high school, Ennis entered IU’s Kelley School of Business.

“I got involved pretty early in a professional business fraternity my second semester. I would say that was the turning point in my development,” he says.

Ennis decided he wanted to be an investment banker, and it’s paid off. After graduating this spring, Ennis headed to New York to work for JP Morgan.

Ennis’ success is a combination of his skill, determination and economics.

U.S. Labor Force by Generation, 1995-2015

“Why has hiring increased with the college, entry level?” asks Thao Nelson, the Associate Director for the IU Kelley School’s Career Services Office and a former recruiter. “A big reason is the baby boomers, there’s going to be an exodus of baby boomers, so businesses are going to try to ramp up their talent pool.”

This year, millennials became the largest share of the labor force, outpacing baby boomers and Generation Xers. They now account for more than one out of every three workers.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean all millennials are getting good jobs.

In fact, 15 percent of 18–29 year olds are unemployed, which is about three times the national average.

“The reality is the top one-third of millennials are actually doing fairly well,” says Jonathan Huer, Ball State University’s Director of Emerging Technologies and Media Development. “They’re getting high-paying jobs. They’re paying off their student debt. They’re  buying houses. They’re doing all those typical things. It’s the bottom two-thirds that are having a challenge connecting with the job market as it is now.”

Huer, who wrote a book and created an app to help students enter and stay in the workforce, says even with many baby boomers retiring, the job market is still tough for millennials.

The “Gig” Economy: Ball State University’s Jonathan Huer explains two major factors that he believes are shaping the labor force, including what’s known as the “gig” economy.

“If you think about the classic example, Kodak had thousands of employees when they went bankrupt, and Instagram when they were sold for a billion dollars had 13,” he explains. “So there’s a much smaller number of people required to impact a much much larger area. The question is, is it going be a one to one replacement? One boomer retires, one millennial comes in? I don’t think so at all.”

That’s why Huer says millennials looking for jobs have to be innovators. He says the ingredients are already there because they’re used to living in a changing world, particularly when it comes to technology.

“At some level it’s pretty basic, we want critical thinkers we want students who are self-disciplined and self-motivated,” Huer says.

Huer says schools also need to do a better job preparing their students for careers. Most colleges have Career Services Centers, but they aren’t mandated as part of students’ curricula, so few students take advantage of the free help.

This story is part of a series on re-entering the workforce. View the other stories here.