The Way We Work

Millennials have been getting a lot of attention, and not much of it is flattering. The negative stereotypes abound, from narcissism and short attention spans to entitlement and even laziness. But everything I’ve seen makes me believe that this month’s Time Magazine cover story was right — Millennials will be the ones to save us all.

Why? They are more entrepreneurial than ever. They have to be, because they are making their way in a world that no longer offers safe, stable career paths and in turn offers volatility and uncertainty.

This reality was aptly summarized by Mary Meeker today, in her presentation on 2013 Internet Trends at the AllThingsD conference. She argued that a number of factors — from the global recession and resulting high unemployment rates to the ample availability of computing resources and the rise of “geek entrepreneur heroes” — have made the Millennial generation more entrepreneurial and resourceful than ever.

As I watched her presentation, I was struck by how strongly it echoed the findings of the oDesk/Millennial Branding survey we just released — and its remarkable finding that entrepreneurship has been redefined as a mindset, not a job description. This mindset is one that Millennials aspire to, and know is critical to their business success. Of the Millennials we surveyed (almost two-thirds of the independent professionals on oDesk who responded), we found that the majority (58%) classify themselves as entrepreneurs. These are professionals who have created their own career paths. Many are getting jumpstarts on their careers by creating their own unique ‘internships,’ even working online while still in school (as 21% of survey respondents were).

And when we look at the job market, this makes sense. Despite the high unemployment rates and lack of stable career options for new grads, we’re seeing a talent shortage. Companies are struggling to find workers with the skills they need, and Millennials can seize this opportunity. As Mary Meeker cited in her presentation today, the projected number of graduates each year with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science is 51,474, compared to 122,300 job openings per year that require that same degree.

Savvy Millennials will assess the competitive landscape, determine and acquire what skills will make them most marketable, and put together a portfolio of early work experience (whether a traditional internship, online projects or even volunteer work) to help them garner the most relevant qualifications.

Some say Millennials are self-centered. I think they need to be that and more — entrepreneurial, opportunistic, and constantly evolving — to have the best odds of closing the current talent shortages, and to disrupt work for the better. If they succeed, that will benefit us all.

Gary Swart

Chief Executive Officer

Gary Swart is the CEO of oDesk, the world’s largest online workplace. Gary is a thought leader in entrepreneurship; how best to hire and manage teams; and the future of work, including online work. He is passionate about helping small businesses thrive, fueled by his extensive experience working with startups and small businesses that use oDesk, as well as by mentoring entrepreneurs and business school… read more