It’s a popular trope that Millennials are lazy and unambitious, often failing to climb the corporate ladder in the same way their parents and grandparents did.

Millennials and entrepreneurship:
Prizing independence, not the C-suite

Like many assumptions made about the generation that now constitutes the largest share of the American workforce, however, there is much more to this story than meets the eye.

Why don’t Millennials take corporate leadership positions?

There are many different reasons that Millennials haven’t worked their ways into the highest echelons of corporate life.

In part, the trend has to do with the more fluid approach members of this generation are known to take to their careers.

Studies have shown that the average Millennial will change jobs up to four times during his or her first 10 years in the workforce.

While this continuous rotation of jobs offers young employees the opportunity to develop skills and enjoy an ever-changing set of challenges, it does make it more difficult for them to work their way to the top in any one organization.

Some blame for the lack of Millennials in leadership positions also rests with the employers, which are broadly failing to develop their younger employees’ leadership skills.

According to recent research into leadership development trends, only seven percent of companies are offering Millennials coaching or mentoring from current senior leaders. This lack of training for leadership roles is also felt acutely by Millennial employees, of whom an astonishing 63 percent report that their leadership skills are not being adequately developed.

Though the previous two factors in Millennials not entering corporate leadership roles are well-known, there is another that is generally overlooked: the entrepreneurial tendencies of the younger generation.

Although they aren’t working their way up the ladder in existing businesses, Millennials are starting their own businesses on average eight years earlier in their lives than their counterparts in the Baby Boomer generation did.

Millennial entrepreneurs have also founded roughly double the number of new businesses that Baby Boomers did, indicating both an increased proclivity and enthusiasm for starting up new businesses among this younger generation.

What makes Millennials so entrepreneurial?

Millennials seem to incline toward entrepreneurship for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is this generation’s general concern for social good. A recent survey found that 94 percent of Millennials wished to use their career skills to benefit a cause, as opposed to simply using them to make money. This drives many younger entrepreneurs to explore socially-conscious startup business models that seek to address issues that Millennials care deeply about, such as poverty and climate change.

Millennials also tend to embrace entrepreneurship because of difficulty finding jobs in the traditional employment market. Members of the Millennial generation experience unemployment rates of over 12 percent, compared with a national average of less than five percent. The difficulty of finding good work is a particular problem for Millennials who lack college degrees, as more and more companies are requiring degrees for jobs that could once be had by high school graduates.

Finally, Millennials find the entrepreneurial life appealing because of the freedom that it offers them from the traditional 9-5 job. Young people overwhelmingly favor flexible working hours and the ability to work remotely. Though some traditional employers have begun to adjust to this new set of values held by many of their workers, there are still vast numbers of businesses that offer few options for flexible work outside of the traditional 9-5 schedule. Since entrepreneurship solves this problem, many younger people are attracted to striking out on their own in order to achieve the work life they want on their own terms.

Combined, these characteristics add up to a generation whose members are willing to put independence before stability, prefer working on their own, seek to effect positive change in the world and do not fully engage with the traditional corporate model.

In other words, the Millennial generation is filled with potential entrepreneurs. Millennials may not be climbing the corporate ladder, but that fact has nothing to do with laziness. Many Millennials would simply be happier and more fulfilled founding and running a self-owned hot dog or snow cone stand than working their way up through the ranks of an organization.

A generation of entrepreneurs and self-starters fueled by technology

Just as important as the generational characteristics that so incline Millennials to become entrepreneurs is the technology that has allowed them to do so.

Though many people think of the term “entrepreneurship” purely in terms of starting traditional businesses, the digital revolution has created an entire economy of freelancers and on-demand workers that gives Millennials the chance to work for themselves. In fact, nearly 38 percent of all Millennials freelance in some capacity, though not all do so on a full-time basis.

Familiar examples of the on-demand economy include services such as Uber that hire independent contractors to perform basic service tasks.

Such services are often the first introduction Millennials have to working outside of a traditional company. In time, many younger people who start out as freelancers go on to found their own businesses.

Thanks to technology, Millennials gain exposure to working for themselves, thus further kindling the drive toward entrepreneurship that many members of this generation already possess.

As more and more Millennials become entrepreneurs, we can expect to see substantial changes in both the workplace and the economy at large.

Boundless opportunities presented by technology, combined with a vigorous push for independence from the traditional workplace, have created a generation that could radically change the concept of work as it has existed for the last 50 years.

With more and more younger people embracing entrepreneurship, the possibilities for the Millennial generation in business are virtually limitless.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comment section below!

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