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Generation Y takes fork in career path

Millenials? Echo Boomers? For Generation Y, it's not the name that matters, it's all about the experiences.

The world's population born approximately between 1978 and 2001-the so-called Generation Y-is the most racially and ethnically diverse and educated generation to date, according to Generation Y theorists. It is also smaller than the previous generation, known as the Baby Boomers.

William Wright-Swadel, Fannie Mitchell executive director of career services, said that although current Duke students have diverse backgrounds, they can be related to one another by their approach to their education and career development.

"There is a notion.... 'What do I have to tick off my list?'" Wright-Swadel said, adding that students are seeking a set of experiences that not only completes their education but sets them on a path to success.

Generation Y is known to be competitive, impatient, skeptical, expressive and adaptable, but also empowered and optimistic. Several students said they see these characteristics in themselves and their peers.

"At least at Duke, the [idea of a] formula of how to succeed definitely exists, but with the changing economic situation, it seems less certain," junior Ellen Shapiro said.

Although consulting, investment banking, medicine and law remain very popular career tracks at prestigious schools like Duke, Wright-Swadel said an increasing number of students have become interested in nonprofit companies, possibly because of the economic downturn.

He added, however, that these organizations have a much harder time recruiting on college campuses like Duke's because they are looking for small staffs and cannot predict their employment needs as far in advance as large for-profit corporations.

"Timing creates an undue pressure on students to make decisions they wouldn't normally make," Wright-Swadel said. "You have to go find these [nonprofit] opportunities."

There has been a significant increase in recent graduates taking nonprofit jobs, according to results of Alumni Surveys conducted in 2000 and 2005 of Duke alumni from classes over the past 20 years. About 14 percent of the Class of 1979 was employed in nonprofit organizations in 2000, compared to 22 percent of the Class of 2000 that was in the nonprofit sector five years after graduation.

In light of the recession, Wright-Swadel noted that nonprofit opportunities may continue to increase, citing Teach for America as a two-year option that has become popular in recent years.

But Connel Fullenkamp, an associate professor of economics and a Chronicle columnist, said the expectations Generation Y brings to the workplace do not seem much different than those of generations past.

"I think that there will be limited choices in terms of jobs over the near term since many employers are cutting back, but over the longer term this generation will be able to sort itself into the jobs best suited for their tastes," he said. "I don't think that this generation will really affect the workplace that much until more of them actually get into positions where they get to make the rules."

Wright-Swadel argued that members of Generation Y are not looking for the same career experiences as their parents. Generation Y wants opportunity for growth and income, but also values casual environments, good employee-boss relations and flexible schedules for social lives, according to theorists.

"If you go back far enough, there was still a perception that organizations directed one's career," Wright-Swadel said. "Who you began with was perceived as critical.... You worked within an organization and you moved up."

By contrast, neither employers nor employees now think they will retire from the company they started with, he said, adding that it changes how the game of employment and hiring is played.

Coming from such a change-oriented culture as the one that exists today, it would almost be a contradiction to expect great stability from Generation Y, Wright-Swadel said. Students entering the workforce are now looking for opportunities to receive training and move on, he added.

"At Duke, [students] have the ability to learn, grow and develop, which creates a valuable workforce," he said. "Duke students can often fit in anywhere."


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