Moore’s Law of Demographics

It’s often said that a key problem we face in today’s labor market is not a lack of job opportunities, but a paucity of candidates with the prerequisite skills. Wrapping this sentiment around the prospects of hiring and training someone from the Millennial generation, I add that there’s a scarcity of potential employees with the necessary motivation and passion to succeed at a given position. After all, if someone is properly motivated, they’ll put in the effort to learn and exceed the base skill requirements.

I would even go so far as to describe the Millennials as the next ‘Lost Generation’, sharing many of the same characteristics as the boisterous, tawdry youth of the 1920s. With the internet and countless forms of wireless communication at their disposal, Millennials have every opportunity in the world available to them on top of a life largely free from many of the rigors, diseases, wars, crimes and menial daily chores which have all plagued past generations. And yet the Millennials are lost. Plenty of options and the freedom of manifold choices can often be a surefire means to abject indecision.

With uncertainty, apathy and entitlement as an everyday occurrence, managers with a true passion for hospitality might find themselves unhinged by the archetypical outlooks of this latest bolus of workers. Why bother devoting your resources to a youth who isn’t willing to reciprocate in full? Why bother training Millennials whose only purpose at the hotel is to fill the void in their wallets until something better comes along? Rest assured, this is a sweeping issue for which our fair industry is but one spoke on the perpetual wheel of time.

Much like any other corporate enterprise, hospitality organizations need intrapreneurs – those employees with the passion and gumption to go beyond the perfunctory daily grind and innovate for the future. Essentially, they are entrepreneurs without the whole ‘leave and start up on my own’ approach. The intrapreneurial torch must inevitably be passed on to the Millennials if we are to survive in these ever-turbulent economical waters.

Ergo, the question remains: how do you inspire Millennials to become the next generation of hospitality leaders and motivated team members, especially when there are so many other opportunities and distractions just a mouse click away?

Inspire Through Empathy

One of the fascinating trends of the 20th century was how different each generation experienced the world relative to their parents. Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, the Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation – just a few of the terms coined to describe our psychographic shifts through time, largely bound by the major events taught in a fifth grade history class – two World Wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression and so on – as well as punctuated technological advances.

Put yourself in the shoes of an individual growing up after such developments have already occurred. Most boomers never knew a world before the advent of the nuclear bomb, yet they experienced the rise of rock and roll and the space race in a way different from every other population group. Gen X saw the rise of the color television and its gradual creep into every household to the point where now we take for granted the accessibly of our crisp, flat plasma. You can even look back further to the 1920s with the advent of such everyday items like the radio, telephone or refrigerator or even to some of the earth-shattering events of the 1960s like JFK’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

In order to select the best candidates and nurture the best employees from the enormity of the Millennial, and the soon-to-be Gen Z, job applicants, you must first understand their unique perspective on events from the 1990s onward. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, no subsequent child or adolescent would ever mature in a world threatened by the outbreak of global nuclear war. True, this peril never even reached full-on paranoia for Gen X and the end of Soviet communism gave rise to a myriad of rogue states with access to highly potent armaments, but nonetheless, as of 1991, the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) was gone.

Then came the internet, email, laptops, DVDs and a host of others. To inspire the Millennials is to first understand that they live in a world of unlimited possibilities. Science fiction is no longer a parable for an alternate universe, but rather the herald to the very near and very real future.

Surrounding all these technological leaps, it’s vital to consider not just their impacts, but the rapidity with which they have permeated our daily habits. Simply compare how slow the growth of television was to that of the smartphone. One took decades, the other took years, and with the power of the internet, many trends or concepts now only take months or days to disseminate worldwide to and find endorsement from hundreds of millions of people (read: Gangnam Style).

For Millennials, life at a mile-a-second is normal. Alongside the belief in ongoing future advancements is one that corporate and personal changes can also occur at breakneck speeds. However lackadaisical or vainglorious this attitude may appear, it’s your job as mentors to be empathetic, then slowly but surely, convert such neophytes to the tried-and-true methodology of earnest hard work and prudent, calculated actions. The turtle wins the race after all, not the hare.

Consider Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law fluently describes an exponential progression of our current advancements by stating that our technological prowess doubles every 18 months. Granting it some leniency, we’ll say every two years. This theory is firmly set in fixed, easily transcribed events in time such as the introduction of a powerful new microchip or the launch date of a new smartphone. Given the omnipresent upheaval of many of these dog-eared inventions on the social routines of people in the Western World, it’s a logical conclusion to wonder whether Moore’s Law applies to generational divides.

Drawing from familial experience, I’m constantly reminded of my son’s journey through college. Born in 1985 on the cusp of the Millennial changeover, he reached university by 2003. By his sophomore year, Facebook was introduced; a novelty at first, but spreading like wildfire throughout his junior and senior years. He was thus at a unique age to experience college life both pre and post Facebook as well as the rise of a new online social order upending so many parts of 20th century life.

Compare this to a person born in 1987, a mere two years later, who, within months of his or her freshman year, would already be accustomed to Facebook’s personal profile, media sharing and event planning utilities. Likewise for a teenager entering this earth in 1989 and college in 2007, Facebook in addition to Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn were all already table words amongst students as well as their parents. A 1989 baby was also highly more likely to own a cell phone in high school than a 1985 newborn, significantly diverging their opinions on proper communication methods. Ditto for plasma televisions which slid in price formidably during the mid-2000s, changing perceptions on the overall utility of such devices as well as room design. These are but a few contrasts.

From 1985 to 1989; four years apart, yet the first two decades of a person’s life in each of these years have scores of monumental social differences. Just as Moore’s Law defines technological change on a two year period, maybe we should view generations in the same light. When we think of the word ‘generation’ we’re more prone to conjure images of a vast span of time rather than anything approaching a half-decade cycle, even if this may be the present reality.

If you are to accommodate and foster successful Millennial intrapreneurs, you must redefine how you approach 21st century generational gaps. Perhaps the term ‘Millennial’ is itself invalid because it is too broad a cluster to accurately assign behavioral and cultural generalizations. Technology improves at a breakneck pace and so do our generations, or at least the frames of mind that such youngsters embrace these days.

Now Consider Millennials in Their Twenties

Perhaps instead of attempting to anthropomorphically cleave the Millennial generation into the ‘Proto-Millennials’, ‘Middle Millennials’ or ‘Latent Millennials’, we should instead emphatically focus on an individual’s exact age. Nielsen, the prominent and trusted surveying company, has it wrong. Sorry, but you can’t stick to a rigid 18 to 49 age definition for your prime consumer snack bracket. There are simply too many existential changes that occur during this vast stretch of adulthood, especially nowadays where life begins at age 20.

If you can permit my loose insinuation that Moore’s Law has a profound effect on modern demographic and psycho-graphic classification that I put forward in the last section, then perhaps you’ll also agree that a 22-year-old Millennial bares very little resemblance to the 44-year-old Gen Xer, even if over 99% of their DNA is the same. Contextually, I wouldn’t even be inclined to group a present day 27-year-old with a 22-year-old. Both are technically Millennial, but given their differing stages in careers, maturity and exposures to the rolling launches of ever-newer gadgets and gizmos, their experiences and perspectives on life are widely dissimilar.

Thus, when an interviewee enters your office or a resume lands on your desk, the first detail you must dissect is the candidate’s age. A single year one either way may have a profound impact on everything thereafter – what questions you ask in the interview, who you choose to hire, how you welcome such a person to your organization, what tasks you assign and so on.

My hope for you is to find eager job applicants, and then convert that youthful vitality into passion for your organization’s goals and growth. What I don’t want is for you to hire someone only to have them leave within three to six months. Nor do I want you to attract those people who views your property as a ‘job’ instead of a worthwhile career.

As defined below, how you approach each age subcategory will greatly alter such candidates’ likelihood of staying on and developing with you as highly productive employees. I’ve kept the naming of these age ranges as bland as possible so you can assign your own flowery monikers, but also so your actions are directly implied from said names.

  • Early College, ages 18 – 19: Vague idea of career path and chosen field of expertise, seeking internships to rule out job possibilities, developing internal values and passions
  • Late College, ages 20 – 21: Refining idea of career path and narrowing field of expertise, seeking internships to help decide on career path, still forming values and passions
  • Early Post-College, ages 22 – 24: Considering post-secondary education and choosing first serious job, may or may not be wholly assured of chosen career path, passions and broader life goals starting to coalesce
  • Late Post-College, ages 25 – 27: Post-secondary education underway or complete, has moved onto second serious job or found happiness with first, the routines of a working lifestyle are firmly in place
  • Early Career, ages 28 – 30: Dedicated to a chosen career path which is in line with passions and life goals as provided either by present job or through new employment

Again, this is a loose illustration as there are those who have crystallized their life goals at the outset of high school while others drift until their late thirties. Every person is different, but from this overview, what should, at the very least, be self-evident is the tendency for Millennials, more so than any previous generation, to only devote themselves to a career later on in life. When opportunities abound, it’s indeed hard for someone to make a decision that will ricochet through all the years to come. But a decision will eventually be reached.

From an mentor’s perspective, your expectations should be immensely different for an Early College and an Early Career individual. I would expect such an Early Career or Late Post-College applicant to know specifically what they want in a job, what they hope to learn, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and where they see themselves in five years. The objective is to determine whether a starting job in hospitality will be the beginning of a flourishing career or just a pastime until another lure tugs them away.

Standard interview stuff really, but this needs modification for Early College and Late College archetypes. Here, you’re dealing with younger minds that happen to have a proclivity for hospitality but no specific idea of where they belong within the organization. Are they natural marketers or more prone towards salesmanship? It’s your responsibility to help these uncertain youth find their way, be it through internship, co-op, part-time or full-time employment. Give them a flavor of various aspects of your operations and take on a close tutoring relationship to fully guide their aspiration in a mutually beneficial direction.

From Twixter to Leader

Another ‘word of the week’ for you – a twixter is someone who is twixt; caught between adolescence and the true independence of adulthood. Does this definition remind you of anyone? When discussing the stereotypes of the Millennial generation, this word may now seem more appropriate than ever before. However true it may be, every twixter is simply a tanker of potential energy waiting – yearning – to be put to good use.

Having to play babysitter to a twentysomething may seem like an overbearing workload, but try to turn this negative into a positive. Personally, I take comfort in the platitude that ‘life begins at 20’ as it means I’m still working with impressionable minds where bad habits haven’t already implanted themselves. Millennials understand that the world and the future are at their doorstep, and with your helping hand, they might just step through into adulthood as well as a job and career they truly love. As for whether Moore’s Law actually does apply to our modern definition of generations, this is but food for thought.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky on Hotel Executive on March 5, 2013)

Larry MogelonskyMoore’s Law of Demographics