Many articles over the past few years have lamented the woes of managers coping with a generation of college graduates not quite prepared for the professional world. Although millennials overwhelmingly feel their education has equipped them for success in the workforce, only about half of managers agree.
As of 2016, about one-third of Americans aged 25 and older were recorded as having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Because degrees no longer carry the weight they once did, employers and managers are looking for more than just education.
Future graduates can get a leg up in the working world by mastering some of the skills millennials lack. While all of these, to some degree, qualify as issues with work readiness and professional behavior, some are broken down further into subsets.
1. Work readiness and professional behavior
Topping the list of skills millennials lack are those related to professional behavior in general. Requiring nothing more than fine-tuning, these are the easiest skills to master.
According to Transforming Education, managers list that their struggles include millennials’ difficulty showing up to work on time and their need to be informed that ripped jeans are not appropriate office attire. Transforming Education is an organization devoted to helping students develop what they refer to as MESH skills — Mindset, Essential Skills and Habits.
To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late and to be late is unacceptable. Figure out how long it takes you to get ready for and commute to work.
Set your alarm early enough to ensure you arrive 15 – 20 minutes before the start of your work-day. Set five alarms if that’s what it takes. Even if you hit a bit of unexpected traffic, you should be able to arrive on time.
Don’t be the office fashion victim. Know your employer’s dress code, and adhere to it. Some offices are business professional, which generally means you should wear a suit.
The darker the suit, the more formal it is. Other employers follow a business casual dress code. Business casual is a term some people get hung up on; for clarification, check out these pointers from Monster.com.
Start-ups may permit casual attire. Even in casual environments, ripped jeans are not the best idea. Information regarding dress code can typically be found in the employee handbook or company policies, most of which are readily available on the company’s intranet.
When in doubt, err on the side of formality and dress up rather than down. It’s better to be the best-dressed person than the most inappropriately dressed person in the room. Clothing may have little to do with your level of competence, but it can make or break people’s perceptions of you.
2. Communication and interpersonal skills
Unlike Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who incorporated technology and social media into their skill set as adults, millennials grew up with these mediums. Despite the obvious advantage of easily adapting to social media trends and formats, around 39 percent of millennials claim to interact more with their smartphones than they do with people. This has had the impact of stunting interpersonal communication, which is what makes communication another important set of skills millennials lack.
Be careful of what you say. This one qualifies as both a communication and a work behavior issue. Transforming Education reports employers are dismayed millennials don’t seem to realize that cursing in interactions with associates or clients is a no go.
Just as students modify their language to suit varied audiences — friends, parents, professors — employees should similarly modify their language in the workplace. Keep those expletives in check.
Communication limitations of the millennial generation also affect their written communication. Accustomed to the shorthand of texting and Tweeting, millennials are struggling with the reality of professional emails. Emails sent to clients, colleagues and superiors require full sentences containing complete thoughts. Fragments and abbreviations are not acceptable.
Following the line from inappropriate language to insufficient written communication might make it easy to understand why millennials in the workplace are struggling to develop relationships with coworkers. Managers want employees who get along and collaborate effectively with each other.
Millennials are quite adept at communicating technologically but are far less comfortable communicating face-to-face or in groups. millennials who are still in college can hone these skills either by taking a public speaking course or joining Toastmasters (or similar organizations).
Though public speaking is something that is difficult for most people, it is also one of those things that the more you do it, the more you improve. Eventually, it becomes easier for you.
3. Conflict resolution
Despite the effect restricted communication skills has on their workplace relationships, millennials truly desire harmonious relationships. That’s a good thing, right? Maybe not.
The pairing of millennials’ desire for harmony with the limited real-life human interaction afforded them through their tech-controlled lives has actually resulted in a conflict-avoidant generation of employees. Conflict is uncomfortable for most people but is especially so for millennials.
They would do almost anything to avoid discord. As dissent is a necessary component of growth, avoidance of it altogether makes conflict resolution another skill millennials lack.
Millennials are more likely than older coworkers to turn to social media when upset or frustrated, and this has become a common way for the generation to handle dissenting opinions. Prior to going out into the workforce, millennials can hone their conflict navigation and resolution skills by listening to differing opinions and working through conflict vocally.
This, however, will likely be the hardest to change of all the skills millennials lack, as it requires a change of mindset. Rather than viewing dissent and conflict as negatives, they need to come to realize there are opportunities for compromise, learning and improvement.
Dissent can and should be constructive rather than combative or destructive. Realize that you will not agree with everyone, and everyone will not agree with you. This doesn’t have to mean either one of you is wrong.
Here’s the gist of it: don’t derail your career by dropping f-bombs, wearing ripped jeans or emailing business associates a collection of sentence fragments and incomplete thoughts. While you’re at it, spend less time communicating through technology and social media platforms, and engage with people face-to-face.
Try to find the grey area between your positions and the positions of those who disagree with you. Ultimately, this is where compromise, change and new understanding happen.