The millennial question

What qualities are millennials going to need to step up as the new generation of leaders? And how can we support them? 

By Christine Wattie.

I’m a GenX parent of three millennials, a Kiwi, recently returned to New Zealand. Now living in Auckland, one of the world’s most expensive cities and worse than New York for traffic congestion, I’ve been wondering what the future holds for our millennials.

I have an interest in the millennial generation, born between the early 1980s to around 2000, both as a parent and as a learning and leadership consultant at IMNZ. I’ve looked at the research and interviewed millennials, wanting to discover what this group really cares about, and how they can be best supported as our next generation of leaders. This is especially important as they will soon make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce.

How are millennials different to previous generations?

As typically defined, there are some key differences between millennials and earlier generations. Millennials are strongly values-driven and they want businesses to focus more on people, products and purpose – and less on profit. Many millennials will happily leave their current role within the next year or two if the right opportunity arises.[1]

In researching this topic I asked millennials the question, “What is the most important factor to consider when choosing a role?” For most millennials, the number one factor is money. Pay and financial benefits drive choice of organisation more than anything else. 

Worth noting, however, is that pay doesn’t operate in isolation. When choosing between similar financial incentives, other important considerations for millennials are work-life balance, leadership opportunities, flexible work practices, meaningful work, professional development training programmes and societal impact.

I stopped and looked at this list and asked myself, am I that different? Money is no doubt a key enabler of modern living. Work-life balance is also something we all want, but that our generation has often neglected. As someone engaged in the leadership profession, I appreciate the flexibility this brings, as well as the opportunity to engage in meaningful work.

The context is different
What is different today is the context. Technology, artificial intelligence and the internet are changing the way we work. Some sources suggest that 50 percent of jobs are at risk of computerisation over the next 10 to 15 years[2]. Robots and increasing automation are some of the key changes behind these predictions.

My father, a baby boomer, has held the same professional role as an accountant his entire career. Of course, he also experienced changes such as the increased reliance on technology. However, these changes did not cause any major disruption to the security of an esteemed profession.

My millennial children, on the other hand, are already experiencing a career trajectory that is vastly different to that of their grandfather. 

With children who have graduated with degrees in law, journalism and information technology, it is clear that a degree no longer guarantees a safe career. We all know journalists who have had to forge new paths in public relations or communications, or university graduates unable to find a ‘real job’ reliant on temporary contracts or other ‘filler’ employment. 

For my children, their careers are already a world apart from their grandfather’s having spent time volunteering to gain work experience or employed in filler jobs to ‘pay the rent’ while searching for their ideal job. My daughter, a qualified lawyer, is already working across multiple professions not to mention, law, marketing, human resources and governance. 

Of all my children it is my son, who graduated with the IT degree, whose skills are most in demand, which is not surprising given our world’s increasing interdependence and reliance on technology. 

It is not all bleak – arguably, their careers have been much more exciting than those of the past enabling them to live and work in exciting locations such as the Solomon Islands, Argentina and Australia.

It seems clear to me that their future (and the future of their children) is without doubt a more uncertain career trajectory requiring flexibility and agility, rather than a narrow focus on a single goal or career.

Creating a bright future for millennials
In line with the wisdom of Greek philosopher Heraclitus that “change is the only constant in life,” millennials expect ongoing and huge change in their lifetimes and that is likely to include financial, global and political upheavals.

Talking with my eldest daughter she says she wants enough money to have security alongside challenge and purpose in her role, but, she said, ‘Isn’t that what everybody wants?’

To create a bright future, millennials need to develop transferable skills through multiple disciplines. Being adaptable and agile as our context keeps changing are no doubt as essential today as university degrees. 

While qualifications remain important, it’s imperative that universities adapt to these changes so that our countries are able to create the talent required for our future marketplace.

Roles that require human emotive skills such as healthcare for an ageing population, teachers, human resources and chefs remain significant as they are difficult to automate. In an increasingly online world, cyber security experts, virtual reality developers, data scientists, gig-workers, and digital marketing and designers are all in hot demand.

In the new world, millennials need to be asking the question, “How can I develop my skills to adapt to the future?”

One of the things I love about my role at IMNZ is that I get to work alongside people wanting to develop and future-proof themselves to step up and create a brighter future. Increasingly, this is something I’m doing in partnership with millennials, and I’m excited about the possibilities ahead. 

Sources: The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey Winning over the next generation of leaders; The jobs of the future that robots won’t take, cited online 7 July 2016,


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