How to Keep Millennials in New Jersey

By Briana Vannozzi

They’re marked by their heavy use of technology, attached to their phones. They tend to be civic-minded and socially liberal. They change jobs frequently and crave work that speaks to who they are, not what they do. Millennials. The name is both known as an insult and the term coined for the generation of roughly 18- to 35-year-olds born in the 1980s and 1990s. And they’re an increasingly important part of the population.

“Millennials are the number one out migration group in the state. So when we think about what we invest in K-12 education and then to allow 60 percent of those high school graduates who go on to college to leave the state of New Jersey to do it, that’s a big red flag. That’s our future workforce,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka.

The NJBIA dedicated an entire day of panels and experts to look at the millennial exodus and the strategies to keep college-bound students learning, living and working in the state.

“One of the things I think we need to do in higher ed is make sure that we’re attractive. And to be attractive, we need to know that our students are going to get the kind of degrees that will give them the kind of training, not only for their first job, but that second and third,” said New Jersey City University President Sue Henderson.

Trends show students graduating today will likely have at least six different jobs before retirement. Positions that don’t yet exist. But millennials aren’t looking for the same collegiate experience as their parents.

“We don’t follow the norm. We don’t follow the baby boomers where you go to school for four years and start working. We want to see what do we really want to do. We want to wake up and be able to say, ‘This is what I like to do,'” said Daniela Velez, 23.

“All of the students coming to community colleges and to any universities, their goal is not to come to college to get a diploma. Their goal is to go out after that and get a job that is gainful, that’s meaningful, that sustains their families,” said Dr. Jianping Wang, president of Mercer County Community College.

“Demographically we are going through the greatest age structure transformation in history. We’re having our once dominant generation leaving the workforce, leaving corporate leadership. At the other end, we have the new gigantic generation, the millennial generation or Gen Y, and they have completely different value systems than their parents. Where their parents wanted the suburbs, they want 24/7 live, work, play urban environments with public transportation and the like,” said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Think Jersey City, Hoboken, walkable towns. New Jersey’s vast suburbs were once a boon for the state. Now corporate office buildings and rural suburbs are being vacated for the very areas boomers worked so hard to leave just 50 years ago.

“I’m moving in about two weeks to Portland, Ore.,” said Stan Piotrowski.

Piotrowksi is leaving New Jersey both for adventure and due to an over saturation in his job market.

“It seems most of the larger companies here want a PhD and four years of post-doc experience and they’re only willing to pay you a mediocre salary at best. So for someone that’s right out of college it’s a little difficult to find that kind of work and the cost of living is rather high here,” he said.

“There’s an enormous disloyalty by millennials toward employers because when they were kids, millennials saw employers break that former deal of two-way loyalty and they broke it unilaterally,” said Chuck Underwood, founder and principal at the Generational Imperative, Inc.

Underwood says employers should take note of the lifestyle millennials are seeking. Even if they’ve been off to a rocky start, they’ll soon be the next great career generation.

So the take home today to keep millennials from leaving New Jersey is to start a permanent, multi-generational, bold campaign.