Millennials: The generation teaching us why we need to change the game & embrace social media

Who are the Millennials?

“Millennial” Generation:  The generation following Generation X and also known as Generation Y.  American’s can’t commit on a date range but Canadians and Australians seem to agree that the Millennial generation is the cohort of people born between 1983 and 1999/2000. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Recently I was interviewed by a “Millennial” (a college senior) from Ithaca College, my own alma mater.  This young woman approached me after I served as a speaker at Ithaca’s annual Network Nights event.  I was there to talk and answer questions about networking, identifying a mentor and getting a job.  While I addressed these topics, I also emphasized the other side of the “job-getting” process that I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job teaching.  We need to include lessons on making real connections, being persistent, sending follow up emails, using social media and knowing trends.  (I also admitted to being slow at building a following on Twitter so, please follow me: @EmpowerThruEd).  I thought it important to speak openly about the side of our employment culture which leads to companies receiving hundreds of resumes for a single job, forming piles of resumes that may or may not ever be looked at.

It is true that we are still teaching young people that resumes and cover letters are The Way To Get a Job.  But this is far from the full story, and as such, it is unfair to end the conversation there.  Young people (and all job seekers) experience ongoing disappointment and loss of confidence when the phone doesn’t ring after sending out 100 resumes. How in good conscience can we continue to tell young people that this is how its done when the new reality is too often no phone call after two promising interviews?  It is up to us to teach them the new methods for getting a job (and building a career) and a new and large part of that is creating an online presence – a good one.  Students graduating into this American economy have every right and reason to be anxious, worried and – as is often the case – down right pessimistic about the outlook.  Here are the numbers.

January 2013 Millennial employment stats: 

Millennial unemployment rate: 11.5%
Millennial underemployment rate: 50%

Source:  This Huffington Post article.  

Back to the Millennial who asked to interview me.  This soon-to-be Ithaca grad wanted my opinions for a paper she was writing about her generation’s engagement with the news. When she asked me how I feel about how Millennial’s “get their news” I could sense an underlying admission of guilt – an admission that people her age don’t read newspapers or watch the news – they get their news from social media.  She asked if this is okay.  She asked if this means that Millennials are disconnected somehow from the mainstream.  I think she was surprised to hear me say that the admission of error needs to actually come from the education system, not her generation.  Her generation IS the mainstream.  I gave her examples of ways I brought current events, social media and new technology into my own teaching and offered additional suggestions for how we, as her generation’s educators, need to do better.

What exactly do we need to do better?

We need to teach the importance of being able to seek out multiple and alternative sources to confirm facts and information.  We need to teach young people to question the “news” and look for trends that counter what the mainstream media sells.  We need to teach students that it is okay to do things differently.  But we should not say this is okay on one hand and expect her generation to keep doing things the same old way they’ve been done for generations on the other. This is a new age.  Blogs may spread a different perspective on the news and do so faster than the NBC Nightly News.  Tumblr allows trends to spread like wildfire and isn’t as time consuming as the New York Times.  WE need to start speaking this generation’s language:  in the media, through our curriculum and in our classrooms.  And we need to teach them when to seek out facts from the New York Times to back up something trending on Twitter.  And we also need to teach them to question everything.  As this student told me, her generation wants to talk about current events but they want us to facilitate those conversations – they don’t have the culture in their dorm rooms to fire up a conversation about politics.  (But I think we can teach them how!)  Bottom line:  Students must be supported in their use of social media to keep up with information, news, trends and data in this new and massive global community.

How do we do this?  

We need to be using social media to teach.  We need to be readying our students for jobs that they will be helping to create in the coming years – and those that won’t exist yet for decades to come.  All of these future jobs will require employees to bring new media skills, experience and savvy – plus global awareness – to the table… but we can’t get our students there if we are not teaching in this language.  We, as educators, need to be using social media in the classroom to illustrate its importance and place in a global economy and culture. In order to do that we need to teach ourselves how – and we should start using new media ourselves outside of the classroom as well.

What is the gain?  

So are the unemployment and underemployment rates skyrocketing because we are failing to tap into these innate Millennial skills to help solve our economic woes?   Maybe so.  Is there a sub-culture that will be born from this Millennial generation whether we provide them with 21st century social media savvy or not?  I think so.  And I think this is the new “standardized” approach we must take:  One that recognizes and embraces the fast-moving, ever evolving globally normalized methods of information sharing.  Our classrooms need to catch up to the digital worlds our students already live in.  School can’t be archaic to kids.  The culture students learn in must reflect the culture they live in if we are to make learning authentic, engaging and relevant.  

The new generation (and all future generations) stand to teach us much.  Are we listening?  Are we learning?  Are we evolving?

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