Andrew Halcro: Alaska's ‘millennial' workforce craves collaboration, community, diversity

Andrew Halcro

By the year 2020, 40 percent of America's total workforce will be between the ages of 18 and 34. It's a demographic trend that is mirrored here in Anchorage. The Alaska Department of Labor reports over the last decade, the 18 to 34 demographic has grown by more than 20 percent.

Today there are 82,000 young adults living and working in Anchorage. Enter Generation Y -- commonly referred to as the Millennials.

So who are they and what do they want?

A study by the Intelligence Group, a company that analyzes consumer preferences and trend forecasting, found that 64 percent of Millennials say it's a priority for them to improve the world, while 88 percent want "work-life" integration to allow them to work hard and play hard in equal doses. Three-quarters want flexible work schedules, and almost the same percentage would like their current boss to serve as a coach or mentor.

In short, Millennials want to make a difference in both their community and their career.

On the ground floor of the building that houses the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce is a company representative of the millennial age. Axiom Consulting and Design, a software engineering company that interprets atmospheric and oceanic information, was launched in Rob Bochenek's garage six years ago. Today his company boasts a workforce of a dozen young software engineers, and his employees are representative of the trends attributed to Millennials.

In discussions about life in Anchorage, Axiom's Millennial employees all expressed a desire for a closer community feel.

"They don't want their profession to define who they are, they want to define themselves," Bochenek stated.

While their predecessors, the Baby Boomers and Generation X, have a distinctly different view of work, and tend to view Millennials as impatient and lacking a competitive fire, these are misinterpretations of a generation that has grown up cultivating a different set of problem-solving skills.

The most common feeling shared among Millennials is that working together is more effective in solving problems. A full 88% of them prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one, a sentiment endorsed by Axiom's Bochenek.

"We have found that a collaborative work environment promotes creative problem solving much faster," he added.

This new era of collaboration originates from many confluences. First, Millennials have come of age during a time of unprecedented gains in technology. The emergence of social media platforms has created a more connected world for Millennials, who have come to appreciate the contributions and ideas that others share.

Second, this generation loves diversity. Growing up amid rapidly changing demographics, Millennials recognize the value of having input from everyone.

Finally, some of the most successful organizations in the country are embracing -- and demonstrating the effectiveness of -- collaboration as a means to stimulate creativity. Companies like Google, Yahoo and Quicken Loans place a huge emphasis on creating work environments that foster collaboration and a sense of community for employees.

However, all is not roses for Millennials, as student loan debt and a lack of affordable housing bring increased economic pressures.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by Trulia, 60 percent of young adults ages 18 to 34 said their finances are the single biggest obstacle standing between them and home ownership. As a result, 50 percent have to go to family members for help in achieving their dream.

With Anchorage being ranked consistently among the most expensive housing markets in the country, young professionals in all industries are being priced out of our community. Millennials have a strong desire to live closer to the city center and recreation opportunities while living in a diverse and vibrant community, but when you combine expensive and limited housing options, the risk of losing the next generation to other communities is real.

As we talk about the next generation, we need to start talking to the next generation. With a clear understanding of Millennials' role in the economy, companies will become more successful maintaining a young workforce, and Anchorage will be better at addressing generational challenges such as housing.

Andrew Halcro is president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.


By Andrew Halcro
Future Anchorage