Forget lazy, self-centred or cocky — the truth about most millennials is they’re absolutely hopeless when it comes to basic life and workplace skills, experts say.
Research shows young adults are comfortable putting themselves ‘out there’ online, but all that time glued to screens has raised a generation incapable of small talk, critical thinking and problem-solving.
And that’s not to mention their staggering inability to cook, draft a personal budget or change a tyre.
“There’s been a very steep decline in interpersonal skills and it means that regardless of their school results, young people are going to struggle to get a job,” educator Michaela Launerts said.
Launerts has written the book #Girlcode, which she describes as a guide to interacting properly on this side of a screen.
“It teaches people how to prevent potential disasters in their professional and personal lives that may occur because of the consequences of their online and (online-influenced) behaviour.”
Topics canvassed include the basics, from shaking hands, to more advanced areas like how to convey positive body language, grooming, the art of conversation, dinner etiquette and managing intimate relationships.
The blame for many of these personal inadequacies lies with the internet, she believes. A number of other sociologists agree.
Technological advances has made verbal communication redundant in many parts of life — ordering a pizza, taking part in a university class, planning a holiday and even gym personal training can all be done via an app.
What this means is young people aren’t used to speaking to someone in person or on the phone, and the thought of doing so terrifies them.
A survey of American millennials by One Poll found 65 per cent don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone face-to-face, and 80 per cent prefer conversing digitally.
As a result of this they’re less likely to understand how they’re perceived by others in real life.
They struggle to strike up a conversation and can’t navigate tricky problems like workplace conflict.
Their time management is shocking and they desire senior roles they can’t possibly hope to hold down.
“They’re so used to being able to filter themselves before they post something on line that they get stuck in a kind of real life stage fright,” Launerts said.
“I’ve spoken to teenage girls who are more frightened of eating in public than putting a provocative picture of themselves online. That’s so frightening to me.”
It’s not just educators who are worried about how woefully unprepared so many young adults are for life.
They’re more likely to have a tertiary degree than any other generation, and they can code software and create magic in a digital environment.
But Rachel Weinstein, a clinical psychologist who founded The Adulting School in the US, said these highly skilled candidates often crash and burn in interviews with prospective employers.
“Many lack skills creating a resume, interviewing and (engaging in) professional correspondence,” Weinstein told CNS News.
These sorts of strengths are called ’soft skills’ — critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, working in a group, and verbal and written communication.
These things might sound basic, but they’re often missing in most young adults, Lisa Renneisen, co-founder of the GenerationYOU training conference, said.
“The event teaches millennials these soft skills, or enterprise skills as they’re also known, which every jobseeker need regardless of the role — networking, problem solving, interviewing techniques, personal branding and so on,” Renneisen said.
“But it’s also about bringing them together and empowering them with the knowledge that they’re not alone, and that they can control their own destiny.”
The conference, which has expanded rapidly and now takes place in cities across Australia throughout the year, began through Renneisen’s own experience with young recruits.
“We had a bad run with hiring young people back in 2014,” the event and training company director recalled.
“There was one who never showed up (on the first day), one who started but switched off after a few months … the more we spoke to other employers, the more we realised it wasn’t just us.”
Launerts said millennials have grown up in online worlds where they make their own rules and don’t learn the social conventions that are still expected of them.
“I think it’s because of the time they’re spending online, which promotes an inward-facing attitude,” Launerts said.
Eye contact, not interrupting, a proper handshake, social engagement — they struggle with what older generations consider basic niceties.
“Body language and creating a good first impression shape how someone sees you. I think most young people lack the concept of what body language is. They’re not equipped with the skills to make a good first impression and that’s a real problem.”
She has met dozens of recruiters who report being “astounded” as the conduct of young jobseekers. Unless something changes, we’ll wind up with a segment of the population doomed to fail, she believes.
“They won’t get the opportunity to thrive … without these skills they’re going to become passive observers of their own lives.”
A study of millennials in the workplace by researchers at the University of California observed that young adults are “unusually and extraordinarily confident” in their abilities.
It has long been noted that younger generations want it all — and they want it now.
“The idea of paying their dues by working hard to demonstrate their worth before they’re given significant tasks is likely to be resisted by millennials,” the UC paper noted.
“They seek key roles in significant projects soon after their organisational entry … co-workers see them as overly confident and inappropriately demanding, asking ’who do you think they are?’”
And by many indications, they are skilled in the theory of their respective professions.
Rather than their ambition being an issue, it’s their inability to ’walk the walk’ when they climb the corporate ladder, Renneisen said.
“They want to skip the entry level, junior roles and go into middle management and the like, but they lack the skills needed when they get there,” she said.
“It’s everything from picking up the phone to have an awkward or confrontational conversation with someone to working with large teams and managing others.”
This lack of interpersonal skills results in often awkward encounters, university professor Elwood Watson noted in an essay for Diverse Education.
“They engage in behaviour that previous generations would consider weird or outright rude, Watson, an academic at East Tennessee State University, wrote.
“I see this inability to converse directly with other human beings. I’ve seen students on campus walking next to one another and texting, as opposed to speaking. They’re also terrified of directly confronting problems or fears.”
It’s not just at work where they’re lacking.
Weinstein said millennials flounder when it comes to personal finances, meal planning, time management and general home-based tasks.
“Due to budget cuts and restructuring, schools have changed curriculum and cut courses like (home economics) and consumer science,” she said.
“Families are busy in this fast-paced society and there’s less time to focus on household chores, where kids would be learning those skills.”
Her school for millennials, which aims to “fill the gaps in life knowledge”, offers a class called Improv for Resolution and Family Communication.
Put simply, it teaches young adults how to navigate conflict during family holiday gatherings.
The blame doesn’t lie entirely with digital technology. How we educate young people could also be behind the dwindling priority placed on life skills.
Teaching students how to pass exams and standardised tests is favoured more and more.
“As a result, we’ve created a generation of doctors, lawyers and accountants who don’t know how to cook dinner. The disconnect is stark —minds capable of advanced calculus that are unfamiliar with creating a monthly budget,” the Huffington Post noted.
Life skills are essential, and thankfully they’re not difficult to learn.
Launerts said humans are inherently social and “genetically programmed” to interact in the manner that young adults find uncomfortable.
“If we can teach young people these skills and demonstrate why they’re important, we can steer them back on the right track,” she said.
“We need to show them how to be their best selves.”
Renneisen agreed, saying many millennials don’t realise they’re not just “at the mercy of ’the system’”.
“It’s about telling them that they can actually control their own destiny,” she said. “But I think it’s also important to remind them they don’t have to have it all figured out by 21.”