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New Study Reveals That Millennial Underemployment Is On The Rise

So many of the Millennials I work with seek my help because they’re underemployed—they bust their buns getting an education, but end up with positions that don’t require a degree or challenge them. I understand the frustration, not only because I see it firsthand through my work, but because I’ve lived it. Armed with my triple major and Master’s degree, my first “grown up” job was an admin role that bored me to death—I certainly hadn’t worked so hard just to end up spending my days filing expense reports for executives!

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t seem to be going away; actually, it seems to be getting worse. More and more Millennials—51% in 2016, compared to 41% in 2013—report being underemployed, according to a recent survey conducted by Accenture ACN -1.39%. Not good news for recent and future grads.

However, Millennials, known for their resilience, aren’t selling themselves short. They’re not lowering their expectations. They know what they want from their careers. The vast majority of those surveyed (69%) reported that they were motivated by passion when picking their major, as opposed to abundant job opportunities or potential earnings. A whopping 92% say they want to work for companies that are socially responsible.

Millennials don’t want to get lost in the crowd. Working for big companies—often associated with higher salary, better job security, and more abundant promotional opportunities—usedto be appealing to young people. However, only 14% of 2016 graduates want to work for large companies, a number that is steadily declining (down from 20% in 2013). Millennials want to work for smaller companies so they can have a more intimate, personalized career path. And they’re willing to accept the trade off—74% say they’d take a pay cut for work that is more engaging and positive.

Millennials know what they want. They just don’t know how to get it. Or perhaps employers haven’t yet figured out how to give them what they want.

Companies have responded to Millennials’ desire for a more individualized work experience by creating different types of contract and freelance positions. However, this trend hasn’t caught on: only 2 to 3% of 2014-2016 graduates reported a preference for freelance/independent work.Of course, this is because Millennials are savvy—and debt-ridden, thanks to student loans!—so they know they can’t afford contract jobs that don’t guarantee regular income or provide benefits.

So what’s the solution for employers to attract and retain Millennial workers? (And trust me, that’s a goal employers should aspire to, given that Millennials are the largest segment of the workforce and will be for some time.)

First of all, employers need to acknowledge the facts. Even though around 60% of Millennials leave their jobs within the first three years, 69% report they want to stay at their first job for longer than 3 years, with one-third saying they’d like to stay five years or more. So Millennials leave jobs not because they lack loyalty, but because they’re unhappy. And it costs employers $15,000-$25,000 to replace each Millennial who leaves, so strategizing to keep employees longer is a no-brainer.

Very few people know what they want to when they’re in their early 20s, but Millennials are willing to work hard to figure it out. Companies that offer their young employees a certain degree of exploration and individuality in their positions, while also paying a livable salary instead of offering only contract work for such positions, will reap the benefits of being able to retain happy, productive employees who will inevitably stay in their roles longer than the average Millennial.

Millennials are passionate, but they’re also patient. They came of age during a massive recession, so they know how to make ends meet on a tight budget. They’ll continue to change jobs frequently and carve out their own paths at the expense of employers– I see it firsthand every day.

As far as I see it, there are two options: (1) organizations can sit back and try to absorb the loss caused by job hopping, or (2) they can shift their approach to create an environment where Millennials can thrive professionally and become assets to their companies for years to come.

Which one sounds better to you?

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