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Monday, April 28, 2008

Generation Y--Just wait a gosh-darn minute! Where does that put us?

By Gordon Garnos

THE ISSUE: Today's young people have been branded "Generation Y" by someone. Don't know who. But it relates to today's job market in South Dakota, the generation gap and what, if anything, we can do about it. This was all centered recently at the 2008 version of the Governor's Economic Development Conference. The conference, and I have attended several over the years, is perhaps one of the best programs ever to come out of our state capital for South Dakota¹s business and industry people.

IF OUR YOUNG people today are known as Generation Y, that should put my generation up somewhere in the B or C categories. Not that I am so old, nor they so young, but Generation B or C people have to recognize there is a vast difference in their way of life from ours, especially when it comes to work. I don't know how far back this Generation Y goes, but I suspect it trails as far back on the calendar to the time I was still hiring help for the newsroom.

A couple of cases in point:

This young woman comes in for an interview, resume in hand, well-dressed, high heels, with stockings, hose or, pardon me, panty hose, or whatever they're called today, and a nice dress and also wearing a very confident smile. I knew I was going to hire her before she even handed me that piece of paper outlining her credentials for the job.

I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep her for very long, but while she was under my employ, she proved to be a winner. Today, she has outgrown her next job and is now deservedly advancing up her third corporate ladder.

Now, I must admit, many of us B'ers and C'ers disapproved of such job jumping. Our philosophy was get 'em and keep 'em. That was the way we came up, and years later, 40 of them, and we are proud of our accomplishment. But not today's youth and we have to learn to accept the fact that they are on the move--live and then work instead of work and then live as we did it.

BUT BEFORE I FORGET about Case Generation Y Applicant Number Two: She arrived at the newsroom door with boyfriend in hand, both in bib overalls, I believe that is what they're called today. She had at least a tank top on under her bibs; he, nothing. And, at least she was wearing "flip-flops," I guess I can't call them "thongs" any more. He was barefooted and both had just graduated from a South Dakota university.

As she left him standing in the doorway I heard him blurt, "Give'm hell, Honey!" That was probably the shortest interview I ever had with a potential employee.

I mention these two young people because of the vast differences between each of them. They are individualists demanding a different life than what we grew up to believe.

THIS WAS BROUGHT out at this year's conference. According to a news article, Micah Aberson, a representative of Lawrence and Schiller of Sioux Falls, the firm is launching the state's new "Live Dakota" promotional theme. According to a news article, he told the audience that "results from research and focus groups that Generation Y members tend to feel entitled to good jobs, expect promotions and large annual raises. They also seek instant gratification, have never been given negative feedback, are 'super technical' and like to work on teams with friends.

"These attitudes are a contrast to older generations whose members feel they had to earn successes, can handle criticism, had to learn new things to stay current in their jobs and work better individually."

Other challenges these young people face in South Dakota is its cold weather and the perceptions of low pay, driven by teachers' salaries, and not much to do after a day on the job.

WE CAN'T ARGUE about the cold weather, especially this past winter. The perceptions about low pay has some merit, depending on what job training the young person has. Not necessarily to counter this, young people graduating from many of the classes in our four tech schools. Considering the vast majority of these students stay in South Dakota and join the work force here, the low pay perception I would have to say is a little faulty.

Then, when it comes to the argument about nothing to do, my dandruff gets stirred up. There are plenty of things to do if they would only have a leadectomy and see what is out there for them.

What today's employers need to remember is that the young people have different attitudes than what we did when we went to work. And if today's employers adjust accordingly, they will help "Live Dakota" become a reality....


Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.


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