Millennials are no longer the new kids in the U.S. labor force.

In fact, Pew Research Center data shows that generation, born between 1981 and 1996, makes up the largest section of today’s labor force, overtaking Generation X in 2016. The incoming crop of workers, Generation Z, makes up about 10 percent.

How this age shift has impacted the workplace culture and recruitment depends who you ask. Local business leaders cautioned against putting too much focus on labels and buying into stereotypes about each generation.

“The general feeling I have is that you shouldn’t put a stigma on people for the year that they were born — it’s no different than gender or race,” said Tut Fuller, president and CEO of Dubuque Bank & Trust. “What you need to do as a company is figure out who you want to be, where you want to go and the personalities and skill-sets that you need on your team to get you there.”


The generational divides are drawn largely due to defining cultural factors.

Baby boomers get their name from a period in American history after World War II when a strong economy led to a surge in births and a zest to achieve “the American Dream.”

Gen X children were raised in a time of economic downturn and increasing divorce rates. The rise of single-parent families and households with two working parents, meant they spent more time without adult supervision.

Millennials saw the rapid expansion of Internet use and ensuing boom in social media networks. Many millennials became adults during the Great Recession, which had a lasting impact on their financial attitudes. Higher rates of education also have led to historic student debt levels.

Pew created Gen Z (post-millennials) to carve out a group who do not have a memory of life before easily accessible technology and global connectivity.

Local study

Data from Greater Dubuque Development Corp. shows about 37 percent of local jobs in 2018 were held by people age 35 or younger. At that time, the oldest millennial would have been 37.

To help area businesses attract and retain younger workers, GDDC teamed with Northeast Iowa Community College in 2016 to host a series of millennial round table discussions with about 150 young professionals.

Amy Green, director of program sales, contract training and outreach services with NICC, said the purpose was to get away from stereotypes and get real feedback and advice.

“They’re tired of the talk: Being labeled as millennials, the myths about their work style,” she said of the participants.

Green said some of what they learned in those round tables was true for older generations, especially when it came to career ambitions. Most respondents expressed a desire for continuous education, good communication with their supervisors and to be trusted to work without micromanagement.

“They want to do the job, do it well and be recognized when they do well,” she said. “Other generations want that, too.”

She has heard criticism of young workers being too demanding, but she said speaking up for yourself and challenging the system isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a workplace culture that is inviting and open to changes will be key to attracting the next generations of workers.

She did say that NICC has heard from employers that incoming young workers do not have adequate development of “soft-skills,” related to communication and conflict resolution, so NICC has offered training programs to fill that need.

“As a college we’re even looking on the two-year side of the house, how to get those skills taught before they leave NICC,” she said.

What companies are doing

Jacob Wierzbicki, 25, came to Dubuque almost two years ago to work in sales for ImOn Communications. He has since founded a digital marketing company, UnderDog Social, but remains with ImOn.

Wierzbicki said young, talented professionals are looking to work at companies that are engaging, flexible and have an attractive culture. Young workers also want to be taken seriously. He said ImOn understands that, which is why he chose it over another company that was trying to recruit him.

“It’s an amazing company with incredible leadership,” he said of ImOn.

Aside from ImOn, Wierzbicki said he thinks companies like Pigott, Hirschbach and Dupaco Community Credit Union have done well in modernizing their culture and outlook to be more attractive.

Green said Cottingham & Butler also has had a lot of success recruiting workers right out of college.

“They’ve done an amazing job going out to universities, colleges and job fairs to sell their culture and workforce,” she said. “They’ve been able to get a lot of young talent to Dubuque.”

Julie Oeth, vice president of human resources for Cottingham & Butler, said their internships are a key driver for recruitment. Interns get hands-on experience working on real ideas and projects that company leaders want to implement, so they get a feel for what work would be like after school.

“We’ve had a lot of success with our interns and converting them to full-time hires,” she said.

Fuller said DB&T and its parent company Heartland Financial USA benefit from their size in recruiting. The network covers a 12-state region, which offers prospective employees a variety of new opportunities they can pursue while staying in the company.

Fuller believes there is too much focus in studies and articles on trying to appeal to certain generations. He believes companies should establish their identity and goals for the future, then recruit people who believe in and support that.

Having the right management team in place is crucial, he added. Managers should get to know more about their employees’ outside interests and be understanding of the need for some flexibility in schedules.

“Why are they coming to work?” Fuller asked. “What motivates them? What are they doing with the money that it takes them 2,000-plus hours a year to earn? Find out what’s their true passion and give them the opportunity to do that.”

Fuller said fair pay is another consideration. Employees should be compensated for the value they bring to the company, and provide bonuses when they excel.

“If you need someone who is talented, pay up,” he said.

Wierzbicki believes millennial and Gen Z workers will help revolutionize workplace culture, including a change in traditional 9 to 5 workday structure. Technology makes work accessible anytime and anywhere, so companies should focus on a results-driven model rather than making sure the employee follows a traditional process to get there.

Companies that don’t adapt and insist on doing things “the way it’s always been done” will miss out, he said.

“If they’re talented, they can go anywhere they want,” he said of young workers. “They’re smart enough to figure that out.”

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