How Millennials Are Unlocking the New World of Work

A generation confronted with stagnating wages finds entrepreneurship an intriguing alternative.
How Millennials Are Unlocking the New World of Work
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It’s every parent’s hope that their children have a better future. For Generation Y, that future is more achievable than ever before -- but it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal published the findings of a study from Harvard, Stanford and the University of California. Stats showed that while in 1970, 92 percent of American 30 year olds out-earned their parents at the same age. Now that figure is only 51 percent. It’s easy to think of this as a black mark. But actually, I think this trend is just one in a series of developments pushing Gen Y to a destination they were heading already -- to become the most entrepreneurial generation in history.

Related: Employees From All Generations Want This One Thing From Employers

Don’t take my word for it. GoDaddy’s Global Entrepreneur Survey of 2016 showed that 62 percent of millennials around the world intend to start a business before 2026. What’s driving this change? All generations have always sought freedom -- the ability to work for whoever they want, the freedom to travel and integrate their work and personal lives in a way that makes it easier to spend time on whatever they want to do -- and to not be stuck in the office from 9-to-5.

Each generation has come closer. But Gen Y isn’t just close; it grew up with mobile technology and social networking that keep us connected and more productive. Smartphones, collaboration tools and an ability to integrate personal and work lives are baked into the Gen Y mindset.

That technology changes mindsets. It changes the way you think. The promise of freedom is available, and Gen Y are running with it. According to a survey conducted by oDesk, nearly 60 percent of Gen Y class themselves as entrepreneurs, and 89 percent say they want to work when they choose. This shouldn’t surprise us. When you grow up with the internet as a normal tool, when YouTube is your primary source of visual entertainment and developers around the world are treated like rockstars, you start seeing connections between the technology you use and ways to make your life, and others’ lives, easier.

The fact that this technology helps Gen Y escape traditional 9-to-5 models of working? That’s just incidental. They were already heading down this path anyway, and the 2008 financial crisis that caused such a huge drop in income for this generation was really just the spark that ignited the already well-fueled fire.

Related: Why You Should Encourage Your Employees' Side Gigs

We might think the world is constantly changing, especially in technology. But for Gen Y that change is constant, and so flexibility and adaptability become critical to survival.

If you can make a tool to automate your work so you can focus on other meaningful tasks, then why not? If you can make money on an artistic platform that connects you to thousands of businesses looking to buy work like graphic design or logos, then why wouldn’t you start doing that on the side?

Gen Y views technology as a gateway to more prosperous activity, not just an entertaining way to spend some time. I know this because I see these types of young people all the time in our business. One in particular stands out. Shawna Corso graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and she immediately thrived. In fact, as a backup singer, she’s performed with top artists from Sam Smith to Stevie Wonder.

But Corso wanted to branch out. She’s been able to use her experience in other areas, like graphic design and fashion, to find other opportunities to explore her creative passion. But it didn’t just happen all at once. It took side job after side job to build up a body of experience and to present herself as a professional.

Businesses like Corso’s are built on tech tools that allow young entrepreneurs to thrive -- anything from social media platforms to cloud-based business apps that you can run on your phone like DocuSign, Dropbox, or Invoice2go. They’re cheaper and more accessible than ever before.

There are hundreds of stories of Gen Y entrepreneurs taking matters into their own hands. In many ways, they’re setting expectations for the generation that will come after them -- Gen  Z, the oldest of whom are just now leaving college.  

Related: Bashing the Stereotypes: What You Need to Know About Gen Z

When they head into the world, Gen Y will have done all the hard work, making freelancing and entrepreneurship at a young age the status quo. For that, we should thank them. They’re showing generations to come that business can be done on your own terms.

We may have already had our “Greatest Generation.” But I think Gen Y is set to be our most creative and innovative generation yet and will help set the expectations for the future of our country and what it can achieve.

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