The First Millennial Think Tank: What We Learned When We Asked THEM

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If you missed the first edition of our Millennial Think Tank, it was an eye opening and thought provoking experience. Despite some technical and domestic pet related issues (broadcasting from a home with an English Bull Terrier and Fireworks outside was not my wisest move), it was a very worthwhile hour. I’ve embedded it below if you want to watch it, and of course we’ll have many more to come. Our core members are:

  • Ryan Cox, middle Millennial, Marketer in search of a job, and founder of Feed the Kids (a non profit he is building WHILE looking for work.
  • Joe Cardillo, older Millennial, Content and Analytics specialist.
  • Kiernan McGinnis, young Millennial, 2nd year student at Lehigh University, English Lit. Major
  • Tiffany Daniels, older Millenial, job placement specialist.

Here’s what established in the first discussion:

1.  The Entitled Generation: This group of Millennials thoroughly reject the concept that they are the ‘Entitled Generation;’ rather, they feel more like they’ve been forced to be the Responsible Generation, because those that came before them left so much for them to deal with in regards to both the economy and the environment. And they realize they have to do it quickly. Ryan Cox so eloquently phrased it as:

“We weren’t the entitlement generation; the entitlement generation is the generation before us, and the one before that, that felt they were entitle to make all of these sweeping, big picture decision without thinking about what would happen afterwards.”

2.  What They Spend Money On: The concept that Millennials won’t spend money was laughed at; they might be reluctant to spend money on a mortgage or brand new car, and they seriously question the “American Dream” that they feel was created by others. The idea of taking on more debt when many of them already paid far more for their education when compared to previous generations, is unbearable. Ryan Cox suggested another succinct but pointed quote:

“I would call us the ‘Living out of our checking account’ generation.”

Not one Millennial in this group owned a home,  most of them by choice. Travel, technology, and experiences were far more important.

3. Their American Dream: It is clear that Gen Y’s reputation for repudiating the establishment carries through to what they want out of life. Kiernan McGinnis talked about how important globalization and connected-ness was to him, and how many who went before will be remembered for little other than ‘their carbon footprint.’ Building connections, human relationships, are far more important to them than owning things.

Connected to this repudiation of collecting wealth and things, Kiernan also suggested, and the rest of the Millennials agreed, that they are very aware of the environmental repercussions of their actions.

4. Student Loan Debt is Crushing: Our Millennials bemoaned the skyrocketing cost of education, and felt strongly that their generation are being crushed by the cost of their education. Starting their lives with the type of debt that may take decades to pay off colors many of their decisions.

5.  Being Connected is Essential: Having WI FI in an hotel room is possibly the number one necessity when selecting an hotel. Having fast and reliable connectivity at home, and really wherever you are is almost as essential as water.

6. The Recession’s Impact: Tiffany Daniels spoke about being laid off in 2009, and how confusing and frustrating it was to ‘have done everything I was supposed to do,’ yet still deal with being unemployed when jobs were scares. Having gotten great grades, worked hard, planned ahead, and to be in a situation she never thought she’d be in forced her to re-evaluate her goals.

Although she quickly found work, owning a home is not on the horizon; simply owning her own car is enough. She spoke about revamping her goals, and being ok with not going after the American Dream in the way she thought she would pre-Recession. The group answered with a resounding yes when asked if they were far more risk averse now.

7. The Credit Card Set Up: We talked about how this generation were drawn into the credit card abyss without knowing what they were getting into. One of our Millennials was handed a $3,000 credit card when he had no job and was still in school. Another was handed a $2,000 card when she was 17 at her college orientation.

They lay this squarely, and rightfully, on the shoulders of the decisions made by previous generations. Ryan stated

“Millennials weren’t the ones letting anyone get a house if you could spell your own name.”

8. Millennials are Impossible to Work With: Tiffany Daniels, who works with both job seekers and C Suite executives, named the lack of feedback as a real issue for Millennials; waiting 6 months to hear how they’re doing, whether positive or negative, is frustrating to people who are used to instantaneous feedback.

She spoke about the older bosses complaining about retention rates, and how desperately she wanted to ask them “Would you hire your own child?” because she knew that often, the Millennials had been raised by the generation complaining about their behavior. Her recommendation is not to change your entire business model to suit Millennials, but perhaps to examine ways that you can shift things to make it a more effective workplace where ‘the business’ could use their Millennials for their ideas and positive qualities.

9. Generation Validation: One of the biggest knocks on Millennails is that Social Media has conditioned them to require ‘likes’ and ‘good jobs.’ The most striking response was ‘if anyone before us grew up with Social Media they would have behaved the same way.’ If you had access to instant communication and validation, you would have used the technology to get it.

The fact that older social media users behave exactly the same way now when it comes to validation did not go unnoticed. Our Millennials were honest about wanting positive feedback and to feel good about themselves, but we all saw it as a very human, universal need. The difference, in their minds, is that what is different is that they grew up with the technology to get this validation instantaneously.

By the end of our first hour, one thing was very clear: yes, this generation is dealing with a very different world than any of those before had to when it comes to both technology, and the responsibility to ‘fix’ what is broken. But in the end, we all agreed that sweeping generalizations about any one group of people are fundamentally flawed. It was an interesting first edition; our next hangout will be July 17th and we’ll discuss how all of the things we talked about this week impacts Gen Y’s feelings and opinions about brands. If you’d like to check out our hangout, here it is:

12 thoughts on “The First Millennial Think Tank: What We Learned When We Asked THEM

  1. Randy Bowden says:

    Almost topic by topic I felt the same way when I was reaching the age of majority. However I did want a home and it was not until the 90’s that the “everyone should own a home” thing kicked in. The first house I purchased (during the Carter Adm) came with a 15-16% interest rate. In 2004 100% financed a $150,000 home at 4% and the lender offered us another $200,000 for furniture, boat, swimming pool or whatever we wanted. Declined that but had and saw friends and folks jump all over it!
    Not surprised, the blanket swiping of stigmatized accusations are always wrong, harmful and unjustified. Except, us Boomers had way better Bands!

  2. smoestoe says:

    To put it simply, we were screwed from the moment we entered this world. Working in public policy, NPOs, post-secondary institutions, and lobby groups has given me enough understanding of the systems that have been put forth to keep certain groups in powerful position and enough of a background in research to see the lackadaisical process and complete twisting of data to ignore trends that would affect other generations.

    I have heard enough of how my generation is entitled, spoiled, and cares more about a “selfie” than their communities, but yet it is this generation that pushes for environmental regulations, proportional tax assessments, diplomacy in times of conflict, and the advocacy of those less fortunate than them (which can be hard when you are 60K in debt for BA that got you nothing more than a job in retail as you can’t afford an unpaid internship or have “five years experience or more”. Yet, somehow it’s fair that someone can now legally work until they’re 70+ while not having any of the credentials that they demand from incomers). 

    I have worked hard to get where I am: I have employment from two NPOs p/t that, combined, equal to a f/t position where I make more than the minimum wage. I am both a Working Group Coordinator (someone who manages mini NPOs) and a Strategic Planning Director, but will make less than 40K this year. I am starting grad school in the fall, debt free and without using loans, as I saved every penny (that didn’t go to my wedding) for school from working f/t last year (11K in total as I made just over 30K in a full time position). Yet, I know how lucky I was to be able to find work after graduating. I know how lucky I was to have parents who made sure that school wasn’t going to set me back ten years in paying student loans (seriously, you rock for paying off my OSAP loans as a grad present). 

    I have worked with enough students and community members, public policy makers and governmental officials to see how flawed our system is and see how it is set up to make sure that it is impossible for the standards of living that earlier generations received for the current generation to even imagine. Those who created laws and policy in past generation transformed nations (where the divide between the low and middle class were miniscule, and the upper class paid higher taxes, as they could afford it, to make sure cities and infrastructure were taken care of) into systems that blame the poor for being poor, refuse to have tax increases to those who make ridiculous money (when 1.1 M and 1.2 M don’t mean anything to you, seriously, come on), remove social programs (such as job training and access to child care), and continuously remove both the accessibility to education through tuition costs (while administrators continue to get pay increases) not in line with CPI and through the inaccessibility of grants and non-privatized loans. 

    This is much longer than I expected, but having lived through (among other things) a keynote address from Dalton McGuinty where he spewed millennial praise (which was incredible condescending) using the same generalizations that allow for people like Peter McKay and Jason Kenny to say that we’re entitled and spoiled, the whole thing has to go. Period.

  3. hessiejones says:

    smoestoe Samantha, if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that each generation learns from the last. I have the same bitterness that you do about the boomer generation. Yeah, I get angry that I, having graduated during the recession of the early 90’s, took a long time to realize my own potential in the workforce. We all had high hopes of earning the big bucks out of school, and were met with a rude awakening about the less than adequate opportunities the market had to offer. I’ve had friends pursue an MBA to shelter themselves from this rude awakening only to be met with worse market conditions when their post-grad was finished. A few of them became cab drivers while they chased their dreams.

    I’ve been angry that boomers in power lifted the mandatory retirement at age 65 and kept opportunities from my generation. And while the economy played havoc and forced many boomers to keep their jobs just to survive, my generation was screwed into taking whatever job ‘scraps’ that were leftover.

    I was a latch-key kid as my mom entered the workforce to help raise 4 kids — in a country where we were new immigrants. My parents fought to keep their minimum-wage jobs early on –all in an effort to survive and give us the best opportunity that Pierre Trudeau had promised. 

    My parent’s generation had the best life — they lived through some great economic times but they took it for granted. They created the best economy for themselves, never thinking of the future implications. I remember when the climate change was first introduced in the late 80’s — nobody ever took it seriously enough to do something about it. From the time it was first introduced it took almost 2 decades to mandate recycling and composting. 

    I remember coming out of school and the first thing that was ingrained in my head was money management and opening up an RRSP to save for retirement — because the CPP that we were currently paying into for the retirees of TODAY would not be available for me when I retired. 

    I could go on about my own bitterness — all to say that I understand your statement. We are all products of our environment and unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of money to change the things that need changing.

    But we all have voices and eventually those in power need to retire — so the “relevant” voices can be heard and can be bring change to a much-needed world screaming for it.

  4. AmyVernon says:

    I do get a little tired of Gen Xers being tarred with the same brush as boomers, as in this quote:
    “We weren’t the entitlement generation; the entitlement generation is the generation before us, and the one before that, that felt they were entitle to make all of these sweeping, big picture decision without thinking about what would happen afterwards”
    Xers never felt entitled to anything, because we never had anything. We have much more in common with Millennials than we’re given credit for – we graduated into a recession, were the first generation not to do as well financially as our parents. However, I have a feeling that that quote wasn’t even referring to Gen Xers, because we’re usually just forgotten about anyway.
    We were called the slackers because when we graduated there were no jobs to be had. Almost everything said in here can refer to Gen Xers, too – as hessiejones notes in her reply comment to smoestoe – whose comment could almost have been written by me, with some slight changes of the details.
    And as soon as we were finally in management and able to start making any changes to how things were, the Great Recession hit, and we were all laid off. The first dot-com rise was due to Xers. The current dot-com economy owes a lot to Xers. I don’t ask for credit, nor expect it to be given (I am, after all, an Xer). But just stop pretending like we don’t exist.

  5. hessiejones says:

    AmyVernon smoestoe Amy, I’m glad you brought that up. I had to re-read the post twice before it occurred to me that we were being lumped in with the generation before us. But I guess when you’ve had the same experience as Ryan had it’s easy to lay blame. It’s probably the same reason we’re making sweeping accusations to boomers as well — for the economy that made our own generation suck it up and adapt.

    You’re right about the dot-com economy and I’ve had to force myself to learn this new internet environment  not only because it was exciting and nascent, but mostly because it was necessary for my own survival. Many of my peers did not grab on to the opportunity as early as you and I Amy, and for that reason they are struggling to remain relevant today.

    I’m glad, in many ways, that we’ve had to struggle for what we’ve achieved. It’s made us stronger and allowed us the resiliency to survive in this volatile economy. It’s not over yet and if you’re in tech like we are we’ll be going on this endless roller coaster ride until we retire. I’ve already braced for the next downturn. But I’m ready for it.

  6. AmyMccTobin says:

    AmyVernon hessiejones smoestoe Amy, I hear you, and one thing that became clear to me IN this hangout is that Gen X hadn’t had a voice. The good news? This was a conversation between Gen Xers and Millennials, and near the end of the hangout I said almost what you said – ‘hey guys, we haven’t BEEN in charge. This was foisted upon us too.’ And I said that I am much closer to Millennials than I am Boomers in general.
    Also, this may strike a chord with you Amy:

  7. smoestoe says:

    AmyMccTobin AmyVernon hessiejones smoestoe

    I think it has to be noted, though, that the few Gen Xers and millennials who have gotten into positions of power (and I will state that more Gen Xers have gotten in just based on sheer ability to mobilize a bit more in the time frame that we are looking at) that perpetuated the system.  If I look at the administrators and policy makers that I’ve worked with the most, the majority of them are under their mid 40s and qualify as Gen Xers. Now, just like the few millennials that I know who are in positions of power – and even then, a position of power is significantly less powerful than the Gen X counterparts – (I won’t name names, as much as I would like to) are there because they were just born into the right class. Period.  With that said, it is incredible hard for millennials to give Gen Xers a pass when our debt from PSE (post-secondary education) is nearly 10x the amount of someone who graduated in the late 80s/early 90s, or that even that work is nearly depleted for students/recent grads, both p/t and f/t (  In fact, trends from the last five years demonstrate that this generation of graduates are the generation of precarious employment (contract work, benefit less, and often working f/t hours and making less than minimum wage). 
    I think, though, it is who you look at.  I see that baby boomers created the system of inequality as it is, many of those powerful people have now either left policy/political life, but those Gen Xers who have filled their shoes have just continued the segregation.  If I look at both Gen Xers and Millennials in Canadian positions of power (, there are 103 members of parliament (federally) that are Gen X, making up 33.55% of the entire elected body, with only 25 members being Millennials, making up 8.14% of the entire elected body.  Out of those 103 Gen Xers, 63 are Conservative (61.17%), 25 are NDP (24.27%), 10 are Liberal (9.7%), 3 are Independent (2.91%), and 2 are Bloc (1.94).  Every single PC (and I double checked) voted in favour of bills/laws that cut social program spending, cut grants for PSE, reinforced systems of inequality in the employment sector, and deregulated a large amount of systems that used to be gatekeepers (i.e. working until 70, benefits, etc.).  Now, it should be also stated that every single member who is a millennial is NDP and was elected in Quebec during the last election.  There is a limited amount of data on what they have voted on, but per party lines, they have voted in favour of social spending, accessibility, and affordability.

    This is a lot of pressure placed on politicians and a political system that I do not feel has the people in their best interests, but it is these charge markers who created laws that can either further the current system or change it for the better.  I understand that we are not the only generation that’s been screwed over, but in the 20 years since our generation started, I haven’t seen enough of the previous generation changing the system or using whatever privileges they have to be a voice for their generation and mine, and, unfortunately, the majority of Gen Xers that I have dealt with in the realm of public policy are more than content to perpetuate the system.  With that said, for John Baird, there is a Lise Gotell, Megan Leslie, Tzeporah Berman, Benjamin Perrin.  And for every selfie-loving, lexus-driving millennial, there is a Nate Levine, Amanda Brown, Cristina Jimenez, Julie Mao.  Each generation needs to be accountable for what ripples they have brought to the following generations, which is why I am so reluctant to give Gen X a pass and why I try to keep my own generation accountable in our actions.

  8. AmyVernon says:

    AmyMccTobin hessiejones smoestoe  Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re in tech or  not – we’re going to be on this roller coaster until we retire, period. And I read that LinkedIn post, Amy. It was really good.
    smoestoe – I don’t know enough about Canada or Canadian politics to even begin to respond to most of what you said. But I think you had a very important point early on – that those who have achieved positions of power “are there because they were just born into the right class”. I’m afraid that no matter what generation you’re in, there are distinctions of class and wealth that are always going to be there. And right now, those who are wealthy appear to be working hard to ensure they remain that way, at the expense of everyone else.

  9. hessiejones says:

    Randy, it looks like the anger and bitterness is felt so widely that there is no one person to blame. Unjustifiably, it’s easier to blame a group for the ills that befall us all. But it’s clear WE ARE ALL PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT. And whether you’re a boomer NOW, who needs to continue to work because your survival depends on it OR if you are a GenY looking at the mountain of debt before you, we will all struggle because the times demand it. 

    I saw a program the other day where a seasoned journalist who was speaking about the rough economic times said kids coming out of college should be taught the value of entrepreneurialism — it’s their best defense in an environment where job security no longer exists. 

    And as we said in the Hangout — the American dream definition has substantially morphed to more of a survival game these days. Unfortunate but true.

  10. AmyMccTobin says:

    AmyVernon AmyMccTobin hessiejones smoestoe Samantha, like Amy, I don’t know a heck of a lot about Canada’s political system outside of Rob Ford, but I can bet you that the Gen Xers in our Congress do not equal 33%.
    No matter, most of the changes that happened that effected our skyrocketing cost of education began under Clinton, when I was just getting OUT of college. This snowball continued to roll, and I can bet you that Gen X had very little impact on its beginnings.

    To me, the greater issue is that WE, Gen X and Gen Y, should not be fighting among ourselves… together is the only way we make lasting impact and the changes that are necessary.

    I think you’re hearing push back from Gen Xers because too many Millennials are doing exactly what they resent being done to them – making sweeping generalizations about Gen X, and lumping us in with Boomers. I’ll remind you that this recession hit us as we entered our peak earning years. At 40 I was unemployed and relying upon my hard saved retirement to take care of my daughter until I could right the ship. We are just as up against it as Gen Y, believe me.

  11. AmyVernon says:

    AmyMccTobin hessiejones smoestoe  
    *slow clap*

  12. smoestoe says:

    AmyVernon AmyMccTobin hessiejones smoestoe

    You are right that it’s not 33%, but out of the 401 elected officials, 91 are Gen Xers, which is just over 22%, while there is a whopping 0% of representation of millennials.

    In the thirty years that Gen X has been given the stage as a generation facing a system that set up for them to fail, there has been little use of privileged Gen Xers to make changes to their countries. We are roughly 10 years out as millennials. While I see the movements that came from (largely) Gen X as being in response to foreign policy, international conflicts, and a steady push of LGBTQ and labour rights (during the 1980s recession), there was more of a focus by social movements to look at the action of the nation in relation to other countries, with some spotting of analysis and activism on issues that remained in US/CAN soil.  In those internal-looking movements, Gen X created an opportunity for PIRGs, many which were made during between 1985 and 2000.  In fact, Gen X set up millennials to be mobilizers, as they (Gen X) began the disillusionment and the spreading of information against the systems, but it is millennials who have taken that information and mobilized.

    In the our ten years,  I see my generation marching in the streets over tuition costs, working on causes like The Other 56% (a version of Occupy Wall Street that focused on individuals who couldn’t just protest because they needed to work to support families/themselves/etc.), Five Days for the Homeless, etc. We have also been called “The Call Out” Generation, constantly keeping other aware (especially in our own social groups) of the problematic systems be in styles such as protests or in more traditional means like media. 

    You had mention, Amy, that a significant chunk of policy was created while you were coming out of college, a place that many millennials are in right now.  What I have seen, and maybe this is a reflection as my experience as a student and community lobbyist, a surge, especially in the last five years, of social mobilization by millennials and government gatekeeping that we haven’t seen since Vietnam (I believe, in my four years as an advocate, I had over 100 individual meetings with governmental officials asking for change).  Perhaps why it is so hard for us to give a pass to Gen X is that, while we may have faced/are facing similar circumstances, we are the ones on the street corners advocating for three generations (our parents, ours, and our kids).

    But, as I said, as the call out generation, I think accountability is something that all generations should face, no matter the amount of solidarity. I will be the first one to advocate for financial aid for students and the first one to call out those who use grants/scholarships for “party money”.  I will be the first one to advocate for living wages and employment stability and the first one to call out those who refuse to hire someone based on age/gender/orientation/family situation.  So as much as I want to be here  talking in terms of solidarity to Gen X, who clearly faces/faced similar experiences and systems, I cannot do that without holding that generation accountable to the changes (or lack thereof) made in their time. I take my generation with all sides (instant gratification to agents of social change), and I hold them accountable, to the same standards that I hold every generation accountable. We, as millennials, cannot complain about being set up for failure or being the “clean up generation” if we aren’t actively, as a group, trying to create changes that will lead to positive social change for our children, which means keeping other generations (including our own) accountable.

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