Q&A: Oates On Millennials’ Job Outlook

The administration’s point person on job training says young workers must adapt to a fluid market.

National Journal
John Maggs
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John Maggs
May 7, 2010, 8 p.m.

As as­sist­ant Labor sec­ret­ary for em­ploy­ment and train­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion, Jane Oates is re­spons­ible for work­ing with the states to hand out un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits and for over­see­ing the fed­er­al pro­grams that re­train the un­em­ployed and help them find work. But Oates has a still more im­me­di­ate con­nec­tion to the chal­lenges fa­cing laid-off or oth­er­wise un­der­em­ployed Mil­len­ni­als: This spring, her 25-year-old col­lege-edu­cated son be­came one.

Oates: What hap­pens when you get your dream job at 24? He was a writer for Rot­ten To­ma­toes (the on­line movie re­view ag­greg­at­or). He star­ted in Feb­ru­ary of 2009, and there were 162 people on staff. There are 53 on staff now.

So he is really strug­gling with, “What’s the next good job?” It’s not go­ing to be a 10-year job, and that is the tie-in. The Mil­len­ni­als are go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent from you or me as a young per­son. I star­ted teach­ing in 1975, and I got a job right out of col­lege, and I thought I was go­ing to be a teach­er un­til I was 65 years old. If I hadn’t taken a turn on the path to go more in­to policy, I’d still be teach­ing. I would nev­er have been without a job. But I don’t think that is go­ing to hap­pen for many Mil­len­ni­als.

What can your of­fice do to re­spond to the needs of Mil­len­ni­als?

Oates: I think our work­force sys­tem is not very re­spons­ive to Mil­len­ni­als. We’re square; we’re old. So what we did this year is, we put out the Job Seekers Chal­lenge, where we in­vited people, known and un­known, to put for­ward their job-ag­greg­at­or tools. We wanted to know what ways there were out there to ad­vert­ise jobs. So we had, I think, 600 tools, from the Mon­ and Ca­reer­Build­ guys all the way down to the moms and pops that were think­ing things up in their gar­ages. (You can find the res­ults of the chal­lenge, in­clud­ing the top-rated job-search sites in each of six cat­egor­ies, at­reer­on­­seeker­tools/.)

We’re [also] really look­ing at cre­den­tials. What are the cre­den­tials that help people get jobs? What are the cre­den­tials that help people make more money? Right now, we have a mil­lion cre­den­tials out there, and five smart people couldn’t agree on what the best ones were…. When we talk about high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing, when we talk about green jobs, what are the cre­den­tials that will get some­body moved up at an ac­cel­er­ated pace in that in­dustry?

What are Mil­len­ni­als go­ing to need to do dif­fer­ently to suc­ceed in the work­force?

Oates: They are go­ing to need to be mas­ters of de­tail on their résumés, be­cause old folks are go­ing to look at someone job-hop­ping and think there is something wrong with the em­ploy­ee. [Mil­len­ni­als] are go­ing to have to doc­u­ment on their résumés, “Why was it be­ne­fi­cial to have these ex­per­i­ences rather than to stay in one job longer?”

I think they are go­ing to have to be much bet­ter com­mu­nic­at­ors than we ever were. They are go­ing to have to be able to sell them­selves, and con­vince an em­ploy­er that they are the one to take a risk on.

And I think they are go­ing to have to be al­ways look­ing for their next job, something that I nev­er did. They are much more vul­ner­able to lay­offs, much more vul­ner­able to col­lapses with new busi­nesses, much more vul­ner­able to hav­ing to move around.

They are go­ing to have to take joy in re­lo­ca­tion. But they are a gen­er­a­tion that is much more glob­al in their think­ing. They are col­or-blind, they are gender-blind, they really don’t have the bi­ases many of us grew up with. So if any gen­er­a­tion can with­stand the pres­sures com­ing out of this re­ces­sion, they are built to do it.

The au­thor is a staff cor­res­pond­ent for Na­tion­al Journ­al.

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