Gen X and Gen Y are Ready to Step Up and Lead

For decades, businesses, economists, politicians, scholars and futurists have observed the 78 million Americans that comprise the Baby Boom generation – those individuals born between 1946 and 1964 – which today represents roughly 44 percent of the U.S. workforce. As that cohort begins moving into retirement, the question of succession ensues.

Following behind the Boomers is Generation X – approximately 51 million people born between 1965 and 1979 (so today those in their mid-30s to late 40s) – and Generation Y (also referred to as the Millennial Generation or Echo Boomers), essentially anyone born in 1980 or later. Each of these generations represent vastly contrasting characteristics and values, and much has been written about how to manage and motivate these young workers and future business leaders. But the bigger question is really one of sheer numbers – as 78 million Boomers begin to exit the workforce, the 51 million Gen Xer’s following behind them create a significant gap – roughly a 27 million-person shortfall – that leaves businesses and communities scrambling to recruit and retain young talent and families.

While Boomers are hanging on to jobs longer due to today’s economic pressure and future uncertainty, the cyclicality of the markets should eventually comfort many in this generation enough to ease out of the day-to-day grind and into a new paradigm of retirement. Whether it’s two or ten years out, the need to cultivate the next generation of CEOs, entrepreneurs, political leaders, military commanders, scientists, teachers, doctors, etc. is now, and forward-thinking municipalities are addressing the needs of our children and grandchildren to ensure the vitality of our communities.

The Future of Brevard County

Here on the Space Coast, we share many of the same challenges as other geographies around the country. However, the issue of workforce succession will need to be addressed sooner rather than later due to the age demographics of the county. Unlike the general U.S. population, which has a median age of around 37.2 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Brevard has a significantly older population. With a state median age of around 40 (Florida is the fifth oldest state in the U.S., behind only Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and New Hampshire), Brevard’s median of anywhere from 41-44, depending on the source, makes attracting young professionals (YPs) a top priority.

So what are some of the things Brevard needs to do to attract and retain YPs? We asked the finalists of this year’s “4 Under 40,” an annual recognition event produced by LEAD Brevard, for their insight. Here’s what they had to say.

What Attracts Young People to the Space Coast?

You might think a lot of YPs were raised in Brevard and returned after college. Only four of the finalists grew up in Brevard, while a couple had spouses or family here. Regardless of their previous ties to the area, job opportunities and proximity to the beach weighed heavily in most decisions to locate on the Space Coast.

“My husband and I moved to the Space Coast because of the great variety of opportunities offered within this medium-sized coastal community and surrounding area. Proximity to world-class high-tech industry, internationally- recognized tourism and attractions, and a uniquely biodiverse ecosystem attracted us from our Southwestern roots.”

– Carey Beam (36), Communications Specialist, Craig Technologies

Once Here, Why Do They Stay?

While the beach and a good job may initially attract young people, the area’s many amenities – such as excellent schools and great weather – along with Brevard’s laidback attitude and people are an attractive alternative to urban gridlock, high costs of living and social pressure.

“Brevard is a tight knit community that continues to provide great career growth, not to mention the great weather. Brevard provides a relaxing small town atmosphere while still being close enough to the big city attractions.”

– Maria Bruno (38), Test Engineer, Harris Corporation

“I must admit, I had a little difficulty adapting to Brevard County after living in nightlife-rich Tampa, New York, Italy and Las Vegas. However, after forging incredible friendships, realizing how safe I feel in this county, becoming a positive voice in the Hispanic community, working toward improving our animal shelters, having these beautiful beaches so close and learning how nearby we are to so many large cities, I love living in Brevard County.”

 – Trizia Eavenson (37), Attorney and Partner, Moore Eavenson, PLC

Will They Stay Long-term?

The consensus among business owners and civic leaders is that engaging young people with their community early on develops roots and connections that without may cause them to leave for new opportunities. While one of the finalists has already left Brevard for new career pursuits, the others seem committed to the area for the long-term.

“I have purchased a business here and I really have no choice but to be successful in Brevard County. I am here for the long haul.”

– Micah Loyd (34), President, Loyd Contracting Company

“I am too involved in various organizations to just get up and leave. The wonderful part of being a conductor is it allows me to travel and work with organizations all around the world while maintaining a home in Brevard County.”

– Aaron Collins (30), Artistic Director, Space Coast Symphony Orchestra 

Leveraging Our Assets

Young professionals recognize the challenges businesses possess in not only attracting their peers, especially those outside Brevard or out-of-state, but also holding on to those YPs who start their careers here. When asked, “How can Brevard businesses better attract and retain young professionals?” their answers revealed a plethora of variables that employers and the community need to consider.

“Give us something worth working and living for. We want to make an impact and a difference.”

– Dan Walker (37), Executive Director, Love INC of Brevard

“It is difficult to pull graduates from UCF because Brevard is considered more of a sleepy area, and they are still looking for some fun and excitement. We do need to offer some programs or events to better pull in that group. Treetop Trek at the Brevard zoo has been a great addition for young adults. Once these professionals are married and ready to settle down, attracting them to Brevard is a breeze due to the great quality of life, reasonable cost of living and virtually non-existent traffic.”

– Heather McDonough (41), Tax Partner, Berman Hopkins Wright & LaHam, CPAs and Associates

“Since salaries are market driven, the businesses need to get creative in benefits packages.  They can offer to help with student loans, housing, daycare, gym memberships, contacts and/or partnerships with local groups like soccer clubs if they have kids, encourage community involvement and help facilitate volunteer and board membership opportunities.”

– Michelle Fox (36), Director Revenue Operations/Patient Access, Health First

“I think Brevard businesses should focus more on how multi-cultural Brevard County has become.  That is a true asset to this county.  Young professionals enjoy being around diversity of not only thought but of culture as well.” – Trizia Eavenson

“Young professionals have a desire to be part of something big, make great contributions to our society and excel in their careers. I think that if we give them that opportunity they will be drawn to our community.” – Maria Bruno

“Businesses should support and promote nonprofit organizations that offer enrichment activities such as cultural arts, outdoor recreation, and volunteer pursuits, and encourage their YPs to take advantage of these opportunities as both patrons and organizational leaders.  I think most YPs want more than just a job, so businesses should offer a more well-rounded community experience.” – Carey Beam

“I think that there are two essential components to attract and retain young professionals. The first is engagement!  Young professionals today are very networked – the ties may be weaker, but they are routinely handling networks of over 300+ people on Facebook and other social networks.  Word-of-mouth spreads much quicker due to the larger size of their networks.  As a result, if you want to attract them and retain them, then you need to engage them in what you are doing.  The second component is getting the ‘what’s in it for me?’ and also delivering on this promise to your community.  The younger generation wants to be treated as an individual and wants to see a benefit to belonging to a community.” – Aaron Collins

Overcoming the Generational Gap

While Baby Boomers, in general, were classified as individualistic (the “Me Generation”) and obsessed with expending their maximum effort on the job to attain material wealth and possessions, economists and demographers characterized Gen Xers as “slackers” who, despite their superior education and technological savvy, valued a work/life balance. So while some Boomers may look down at the generations succeeding them, others are studying their values and behaviors to best deliver upon their wants and needs to ensure the long-term prosperity of their respective organizations.

Do younger workers recognize these beliefs in their supervisors and older co-workers? Many of our respondents did not, but others shared what they felt were misconceptions about their generation.

“I think there is a large misconception that we are lazy and lack interpersonal skills. Further, that many of us are unable to take criticism. I will admit that there are many people in my age group and younger that fall into this category, but there are just as many that do not.”

Joe Sofia (33), Commercial Lender, U.S. Bank (Joe used to work at Florida Business Bank)

“Because the younger generation is taking a more active approach to enjoying life, it is often perceived as lacking a strong work ethic.  The younger generation works to live not lives to work.  This is influenced by the way the world was when each generation was growing up.” – Michelle Fox

“I think we come across as being ungrateful and passive.  The generations before us have had to sacrifice to make our country what it is today.  Now it is our turn.  My generation is going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work to meet the challenges we are facing in Brevard and in America.” – Micah Loyd

“The GenXers are the ones who first sought out more work/life balance.  We complain about it a lot but can’t quite seem to get there.  The younger generations seem to be making it first priority and have figured out how to make it work for themselves.  Older generations see this as a lack of focus and drive.  It can disrupt business if not managed, but perhaps we need to change the way we do business.  After all, is it so bad to move your family up the priority ladder?” – Heather McDonough

“I’m not so sure about misperceptions, but if I could ask two things from older workers: I would ask them to believe in us and continue to mentor us.  We need both.” – Dan Walker

“Often, the current YP generation is perceived of as having shallow loyalties or short attention spans when it comes to making commitments to employers, etc.  The truth is that we often make very strong commitments to pursuits that are value-added and keep us engaged.  I think most YPs are more than eager to devote themselves to their employers and other efforts when they feel they are involved and see they are making a lasting contribution.  However, our fast-paced world gives us plenty of opportunity to scan for alternatives in the event we don’t find fulfillment in our current situation.” – Carey Beam

“Two misperceptions that I have heard about the Generation Y bunch is we ‘don’t want to pay our dues’ and we have a ‘poor work ethic.’  The 2004 film, In Good Company, and various other movies have been based on the notion that Generation Yers don’t pay their dues and swoop in to replace Baby Boomers.  This attitude can madden Boomer employees who had to spend years climbing the ladder; but today’s workplace has changed.  Putting your nose to the grindstone for an organization/business no longer assures a secure spot in the future.  For the most part, our generation is hard working.  The truth of the matter is our generation is more educated than past generations due to the amazing amount of technology and instant access.  Technology has allowed this generation to multitask and find shortcuts in achieving tasks. Texting, social networking, and surfing the web have all made Generation Y more competent, resourceful, and productive.” – Aaron Collins

Challenges Ahead

Fortunately, future generations are less concerned about the opinions of their predecessors than the condition of the world they are inheriting. From global warming to mounting debt, leaders of Generations X and Y seem up for the task of addressing the problems that will be handed down to them rather than basking in self pity and blaming their parents’ generation for these problems.

“I feel we are extremely fortunate, but we have some very big burdens on our backs to carry. To ‘succeed’ personally and as a country, we need to work smart and extremely hard for a very long period of time. Now, I understand that we are not digging ditches, but mentally we need to have that kind of work ethic. I just hope that we do because our success or failure will define us.”

Ryan Brandt (38), VP, New Business Development and Minority Owner, Brandt Ronat & Company

“We are facing major challenges regarding climate change, rising global population and their domino effect on our way of living. While I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic, I find it doubtful the way we live, consume, and produce is sustainable. I believe we will need to make changes to grow and prosper. I think flexibility and making tough choices will be key to our success in the future.”

– Aliona Groh (38), Marketing Analyst – Digital Media, Embraer Executive Jets

“I believe our greatest challenges are worrying about our children’s financial futures and the environment.  The markets experienced quite a nosedive and with the amount of debt the country has taken on, our children already have quite a large debt assigned to each of them from the moment they are born.  To add insult to injury, we are encountering treacherous climate change that is affecting every walk of life.  I worry that [my son] won’t be able to see certain animals in the wild due to extinction.” – Trizia Eavenson

“The greatest challenge facing our generation is the societal demand to get a degree or two, but then the business world’s demand for experience.  It used to be that you could go from high school to the job, now the competition is fierce.  A degree doesn’t necessarily equal work experience.  A master’s degree in some cases is the equivalent of a bachelor’s ten years ago.” – Michelle Fox

“My generation is going to be working in a global economy and a global market.  The American economy is now very dependent upon the world economy.  We are going to have to learn how to continue to make America a great place to live while tackling tough problems like foreign dependency on oil, environmental concerns, educational challenges, and debt reduction.” – Micah Loyd

“One scary thing though, is sending our kids off to college.  Once they graduate, what will be there for them as far as jobs are concerned?  I already see a lot of grown children of friends moving back home due to lack of jobs or layoffs.  We all want our kids to have better opportunities than we had, but that is just not the case these days.” – Heather McDonough

“The greatest challenge we currently face is establishing new and higher leadership standards after the recent years of abuse and entitlement from business, government and community leaders.” – Dan Walker

Where Do We Go from Here?

Ask anyone in Brevard and, except for a minority of people who are opposed to change of any kind, almost everyone has an opinion on what they’d like to see added, transformed or eliminated on the Space Coast. YPs are no different in their passion for their community, yet many of their suggestions have already been bandied about by previous and current generations.

“Brevard has struggled with claiming a unified identity. While we have a very unique geography and a spread of pockets with their own local character, we absolutely must come together to promote the Space Coast with one voice. As a whole, we have something to offer to just about everyone, but the message is diluted when the county is divided into regions that have their own agendas. We need to embrace each other’s differences, pull our resources and stop competing amongst ourselves to be more attractive to a wider audience.” – Carey Beam

“If we could change our collective mindset to be a bit more progressive and forward-thinking, we could create our own version of Silicon Valley. I want Brevard to take the steps that further differentiates the area with each endeavor we take on. Think bigger. Think sustainable. Think of Brevard as a product and work in ‘differentiators.’ The space industry and technological spinoffs are wonderful platforms to continue to build from.” – Ryan Brandt

“The only thing that I would change about Brevard County would be to make it the most attractive option for new businesses large and small to start up in, make it the easy choice, the smart choice, the right choice.  I would like to see demonstrated and actionable efforts in the North part of the county to attract and retain employers and businesses.  I live in Titusville and I have seen how it has been hit hard by changes in the county; however, with change comes opportunity.  We have to be as aggressive as we can to take advantage of this ‘change opportunity’ before it passes us by.  Other areas outside of Brevard County are also suffering from the economic downturn and are chasing the brass ring – we have to chase harder and take some risks to ensure a bright future.” – Michelle Fox

“The one thing I would change is the interconnectedness of our county.  We have so many great businesses, nonprofits, churches and people . . . but I can only imagine what Brevard County could be like if we paid the relational price to increase our interconnectedness.” – Dan Walker