Utah has more millennials than any other state

Originally published in Utah Business.

Utah’s millennial population represents approximately 23 percent of the state (726,000 people). Roughly one in every four Utahns is a millennial―a  higher percentage than in any other state. As a cohort, Utah’s millennial population is 20 percent larger than the state’s Gen-X population and 39 percent larger than the state’s baby boomer population. Which begs the question: How does Utah’s large millennial population impact Utah?

While the definitions of generational cohorts vary, a common definition of the millennial generation includes anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38 in 2019). They are called millennials because they reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st Century. They are old enough to remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks and many of them entered the workforce during the Great Recession. These and other events shaped their world view.

Perhaps more than any other event or trend, millennials’ world view has been shaped by technology. They are “digital natives,” meaning they grew up in a connected, multi-tasking, and tech-savvy world. Earlier generations are “digital migrants,” and have had to blend today’s computer-in-your-pocket world with past realities of a landline in every home, printed newspapers, library research, and VHS recordings.

Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, writes: “Baby boomers grew up as television expanded dramatically, changing their lifestyles and connection to the world in fundamental ways. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and millennials came of age during the internet explosion.” The iPhone launched in 2007, impacting all of us, but none more than the millennials who took to their screens like a mother to her child, cradling it in their hands.

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials possess many distinctive characteristics. Pew finds millennials support bigger government/more services than other generations, support same-sex marriage at higher rates than other generations, increasingly identify as political independents, and are more racially/ethnically diverse than earlier generations. 

Some people joke about millennials as self-absorbed, entitled, and eager for instant gratification. Maybe there is some truth to that, but they also set a great example for the rest of us in the way they value Mother Earth, promote work-life balance, and appreciate diversity. Millennials are also better educated than prior generations, especially among women.

The Salt Lake Chamber recently asked in their CEOutlook (a quarterly survey of a diverse mix of Utah CEOs) how Utah’s young workforce impacts their business and hiring practices. The results were at once telling, discouraging, and inspiring.

One CEO wrote: “With our younger population, we find we have to engage them more proactively because they want to be involved and challenged.” Another said younger workers “want to make a difference in the community” and not just collect a paycheck. I love that Utah’s younger workforce chooses to be civically engaged.

Another CEO said she sees a trend toward more flexible hours and more emphasis on early career benefits such as child care and maternity leave. I see this as an important step for families.

Several CEOs opined about the different work behaviors of millennials. They commented on the “lack of long-term commitment in the workforce” and “more frequent turnover.” This matches some of the behaviors I’ve observed as well. I think employers need to adapt to this changing reality by helping to improve work-life balance and making work more than a place to collect a paycheck.

CEOs also commented on the mismatch between expectations and skill levels. One said, “the younger workforce has higher expectations of job perks and benefits, but lack essential skills to perform at an average level.” Another said, “millennials have a very different view of the workplace. They want more for less. That is a challenge in an environment where client budgets are shrinking and clients are asking more for less.” Ouch… perhaps millennials too need to adapt to economic realities. 

Looking to the future, I’m struck by three observations. First, let’s relish Utah’s young, diverse, tech-savvy, healthy, and community-minded population. It’s a competitive advantage for us. Second, let’s adapt to the changing realities presented by this large, curious, multi-tasking, open-minded, connected, and environmentally keen generation. We have much to learn from them. 

And finally, let’s remember something I learned from studying the work of Pew. Michael Dimock says, “generations are a lens through which to understand societal change, rather than a label with which to oversimplify differences between groups.” Within each generational label are individuals working each day to fulfill their potential. Let this truth be our guide.