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Young Professionals Cope With Dramatic Work Force Shifts

They have witnessed busts in the dot-com economy, tremors in the mortgage housing sector, and the disillusionment of their parents whose jobs have been downsized, outsourced and eliminated.

It would follow that this latest generation of workers, aged 21 to 28 and known as Generation Y, shows about as much loyalty to corporate America as corporate America seems to deserve.

“I think Gen-Yers are acutely aware of the idea that job stability is nonexistent anymore,” said Richard Sampson, a 25-year-old senior account executive for On Call Employee Solutions Inc. in San Diego. “To me, it’s important that I bring my talent to a company that appreciates me so I can have a long-term relationship with an employer. That is something we believe is rare today.”

By long term, Sampson said he means five years.

“These folks think in terms of years being long term, not decades,” said Travis Medley, a regional supervisor in San Diego for job recruiting firm Robert Half International Inc., which recently published a report with Yahoo! HotJobs on attitudes of Generation Y professionals. “I think we’re in a time where we’re seeing shifts in attitudes in companies and countries even. I don’t think the expectation is to sign on with a company after college and retire with them.”

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If there was such an expectation, it died the moment kids watched their parents get laid off their first, second or third job. Generation Y expects to change jobs, they keep their resume updated, and they usually have worked for themselves for a stint, Sampson said.

“I think our parents, at least as of recently, had a hard awakening and hard transition into this new reality,” Sampson said. “After working for 20 years with the same company, having been laid off and then working two years here and two years there, they are really disillusioned with the employer relationship. They say things like, ‘Boy if you can be your own boss, that’s the way to go.’ ”

Sampson said that when his mother, now 53, had to change jobs throughout her career, “it was a time of great anxiety of not knowing what to do.”

As a result, he said, “We’re already conditioned for that event. It could happen any day. We’re prepared for it. We almost expect now to do it.”


Building Better Prospects

Sampson helped pay his way through the University of San Diego by working as an executive recruiting consultant. He basically searched Monster.com to find good job candidates and worked to get them hired at the company they wanted. One success would translate to a $13,000 check, which was half his tuition.

“One thing that we have been acutely aware of is learning how to build a compelling resume, learning how to market ourselves,” he said. “And the importance of networking is much greater than it used to be.”

According to the Robert Half International/Yahoo! report, even though Generation Y workers share similar concerns as others in the work force , a good salary, a strong benefits package and the potential for career advancement , they’re more inclined to be proactive about voting with their feet when things aren’t working out.

“Our corporate culture has said to everyone regardless of their status , you are expendable. The moment when we have an issue with revenue, you are gone,” said Gregg Ward, a San Diego-based management consultant, author and motivational speaker. “Most corporations these days are not willing to keep people employed no matter what. Workers have become a commodity. Generation Y is pretty savvy about that and trying to leverage that into a new position.”

Sampson, who negotiates benefits packages on behalf of job candidates, said that Gen-Yers want higher salaries and strong benefits because they’re often saddled with school debt amid rising inflation.

“I do think we are negotiating harder to get what should be commonplace,” said Sampson. “We’re covering the first level of needs here: making sure we’re OK with retirement and making sure we’re healthy.”

He said his fellow Gen-Yers are very concerned about benefits. It’s the first question they ask, he said.

“We are more skeptical that the government assistance is going to be there, so we’re looking for a solid way to plan for the future,” Sampson said. “We want a good 401(k), a good employer match and a good way to invest money. So when that time comes, we will be taken care of.”


Facing Higher Inflation

This generation is also dealing with a level of inflation that has not occurred since the 1970s. Health care costs are rising disproportionately along with housing prices and even gasoline.

“They know the value of the dollar is decreasing; they know the cost of living is going up dramatically,” Sampson said. “Even if we don’t have much experience, we think it’s appropriate and the right thing to do to offer salaries that would be higher than five years ago.”

He added, “I don’t think employers fully grasp the gravity of this.”

Sampson said his own school debt is six figures.

“(Employers) need to understand they are going to have to pay a significantly higher salary than five years ago if they’re going to be in the market for the best candidate,” he said. “Employers are so concerned about cutting costs, they’re reluctant and don’t see the value in ensuring that a mid- or low-level employee can live.”

For his 19-year-old brother in college he has some cold advice: Be practical and don’t expect anyone to take care of him. “I tell him to not be idealistic in his studies. He needs to pursue a course of study with high earning potential,” he said. “I tell him it’s crucial for him to make the right friends now, so they can be a good support base later.”

“It’s skeptical and a little cynical,” he said. “Given the state of the economy and the probability that it’s going to get worse over the next couple of years, we need to prepare them for that.”

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