June 29, 2016

DrKohl_color The Ag Globe Trotter

Dr. Dave M. Kohl

Welcome to the weekly edition of The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl.

Oh millennials! Those individuals18 to 34 years of age are changing the world. The millennial generation now numbers over 80 million and demographically have become the “pig in the python” exceeding the baby boomer generation, or those born between 1946 in 1964. Just as the baby boomers once did, this generation of up and comers will significantly impact the workforce and consumer trends as well as our global society for years to come. For agriculture, the industry will face unprecedented change in numerous areas, and incorporating the millennial generation will be one of those challenges.

First, by 2020 millennials will represent 50 percent of the United States workforce. By 2025, only nine years away, three quarters of the workforce will be from this young generation. While the baby boomers as well as the generation before had a more defined path for career and life, this generation’s road to maturity, school, work and life is more elongated, complex and often tangential. Additionally, this generation will be more diverse with various ethnic and income categories.

More of this young generation grew up with technology in single-parent homes. This is in stark contrast to the Leave it to Beaver and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet television shows that paralleled life for the baby boomer generation.  Many millennials have bifurcated education, either not finishing formal schooling or spending six to eight years pursuing one or multiple degrees. Far exceeding the rate of inflation, a university education saddled many millennials with significant debt. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, millennial debt now exceeds $1.3 trillion, which is larger than U.S. consumer credit card debt. In turn, this factor caused members of the millennial generation to postpone marriage and starting a family, which continues to impact the housing industry, retail sales and consumer trends. Recently, in Louisville, Kentucky, Farm Credit sponsored a young producer panel where each panelist indicated that student debt was an inhibitor to the start and growth of his or her new agribusiness.

The Workforce
Whether it is the family farm, a small business or the large corporate office, many will attempt to “decode” the millennials or understand the “millennial mindset.”  First, this junior generation seeks a work- to-life balance. Often, this is perceived as laziness by the more senior, rigid superiors of structured organizations. In the workplace, millennials prefer “gigs” or projects that make a difference for the organization, people’s lives and society, in general.

Next, growing up on computers and technology, millennials expect and demand frequent feedback.  Some of my academic colleagues indicate that from their experience, millennials have difficulty accepting critique or criticism. Others suggest that millennials’ problem-solving skills and critical thinking processes are lacking as a result of standardized testing where the goal is simply to pass the exam. In addition, a structured “helicopter” type of parenting approach may soften a millennial’ s resilience in competitive environments such as sports or academics. However, it is important to remember that each generation is labeled with generalizations and one simply cannot broad brush an entire group of individuals as a whole.

Yes, perhaps up to 40 percent of millennials may have a sense of entitlement. However, the other 60 percent apply their knowledge of technology and innovation with good old-fashioned work habits.  In other words, they are timely, follow instruction and most importantly are amenable with others. These individuals possess a high emotional IQ, which is critical to a successful work force and business environment. In rural areas, organization such as 4-H and FFA can be invaluable in developing these skills.

Successful organizations and businesses must be selective in identifying the right individual to join their workforce. In sports, this may be called scouting for a future draft pick. The world-changing perspective of legendary, former basketball coach Dean Smith of University of North Carolina’s Tar Heels is very applicable to millennials in the workforce. When asked about his recruiting philosophy he just smiled and said, “I don’t recruit. I select and reload North Carolina, which is known as the blueblood of college basketball.” Coach Smith went on to say in The Carolina Way, “My basketball philosophy boils down to six words. Play hard; play together; play smart.”

For many organizations and businesses, it may be imperative to conduct a “test run” or type of internship before committing to employment.  This process allows an employer to ascertain the skill set, attitude and cultural fit of a potential employee over a period of time. Just as a business owner must consult his or her spouse and partner on decisions, the same is true for the partner or spouse of your potential hire.  Before you select an individual, assess the partner’s level of support for your organization as well as his or her own aspirations as this will be critical in the retention of your new employee. This aspect will be a critical issue and challenge for those integrating the millennial mindset.

Another obstacle for agriculture and rural America is location. Millennials tend to choose suburban and urban areas in which to live. They often rent small apartments in larger cities and are stimulated by the activities and actions of urban life. Nearly 75 percent of millennial purchases will be experience oriented, particularly during their 20s and 30s. Ranking high on their list of purchases are media items fully interfaced with technology. Location may be a particular challenge for the agriculture industry as many farms, ranches, lending offices and agribusiness firms are located in remote areas. Several years ago, I noticed a trend in my travels to Canada that perhaps will repeat in other areas. Many of the younger farm workers lived in town and then commuted out to work to maintain their social network.

Recently, I facilitated sessions and discussions at a multi-generational seminar for producers. The younger generation was asked what it is they want from the senior generation. Specifically, they want clarity of roles, transparency and understanding of financials, open-door communication, incorporated technology and the opportunity for education and growth. Indeed, today’s agricultural workforce, culture and business environment is headed for a significant paradigm shift with this generation.

The millennials will also impact the consumer marketplace. Like the baby boomers, many stay physically active and fit. Additionally, the millennials seek a healthy lifestyle attempting to balance mental, physical and spiritual well-being. They enjoy fresh food along with the knowledge of where and how it was produced. Millennials in the U.S. and around the globe will drive local, natural and organic food and consumer trends, even though economically it may be more expensive. The millennial generation will support causes ranging from environmental sustainability to animal welfare that will change agricultural systems of the future. On our family dairy farm and in the creamery business, we continue to experience the value of social media and power of “millennial moms” in persuasions about our products and services. Monitoring these consumer trends will be critical in any successful, future business model.

Even with all the research and data, is the millennial generation really that much different? My business partner, a gentleman in his early 40s, recently asked me a similar question. After some passionate interchange, we both came to the conclusion that perhaps the mindset of millennials is not that different from the generations before. Regardless of birth date, every individual wants to be treated respectfully whether in the workplace or as a consumer. Most people want a sense of meaning with an opportunity to make an impact. Most people also prefer a work environment based on productivity rather than the amount of time and of course, most individuals want feedback. 

Many will continue to generalize and, perhaps, even stereotype this generation. However, attributes of the individual are still of utmost importance.  It is always an advantage to know as much about an individual as possible including generational trends and personality profile. Astute business managers and owners will identify individuals with the skills to improve, grow and evolve the business. Individuals, and not the generation from which they come, will continue to be the foundation upon which one can build work culture and realize an improved, more profitable and sustainable business.

Millennial Predictions

  1. More family businesses will comprise cousins working with cousins as farms and ranches become larger, multi-entity businesses.
  2. With 21 percent of farms and ranches lacking a successive generation, non-family partners and owners will become more common among millennials.
  3. Millennials will be extremely entrepreneurial, aligning themselves with customers through technology and good old face-to-face interaction.
  4. The ownership of houses and properties could see a trending decline as this generation seeks simplicity, mobility and flexibility. This trend may expand to numerous things such as cars and tools.
  5. A major technology disaster will occur sometime in their lifetime that will shift paradigms back to agriculture and rural life.
  6. The millennials, like generations before them, will experience three to four unexpected world events that will help shape their perspective.
  7. The millennial generation will elect the next president either by voting or more importantly, by disengaging and not voting.
  8. After this year’s election, the next set of presidential candidates will likely include a millennial. Similar trends will also occur in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as in state and local elections.
  9. Millennials will also move into other government jobs such as agencies and bureaus. Regulations and rule-making will be impacted greatly by the millennial mindset.
  10. More women and minorities with ethnic and gender links to the consumer will create a valuable entrepreneurial energy.
  11. Millennials are in line to inherit much wealth. However, this likely will not happen as a result of increased healthcare costs late in life for the senior generation.
  12. In general, millennials can be thrifty and accept a lower standard of income. However, they will enhance their lifestyle through technology, innovation and specific lifestyle products.
  13. Lastly, the lucky and unlucky 13th prediction is that the millennial generation will require social media training. That is, not on usage but technology etiquette!