Young IT workers disillusioned, hard to hold, survey says

Employees age 18 to 31 have high expectations that many IT employers simply can't meet.

As IT managers work to hire and retain IT talent, they report running into issues meeting the work expectations of young Millennial generation employees, says Atlantic Associates, an IT staffing company.

Young IT employees pose a challenge to many managers who say the Millennial generation holds employers up to unrealistic expectations and makes unreasonable demands for their services.

Millennials -- employees between the ages of 18 and 31 -- represent the top challenge for IT managers, according to survey results released Thursday from Atlantic Associates, an IT staffing company. (See what IT veterans think about this study here.

Atlantic Associates polled more than 100 Massachusetts executives on the challenges they face and more than 50% of respondents described those teen and 20-something employees as the "toughest generation to manage." Generation Xers (ages 32 to 42 years old) placed second with 17% of respondents saying they pose a management challenge.

Jack Harrington, co-founder and principal of the staffing firm, says the problem between employers and the younger generation just entering the workforce can be traced back to the employees' upbringing or an easier way of life for children in the United States today.

"The issue managers are facing is with retention, not hiring. That means the work environment is not living up to the employee's expectation," he says. For instance, many younger workers expect to get an office immediately or be paid at a rate higher than entry level.

"Millennials are coming in with high expectations and are disillusioned about the reality of a work place. They feel they should be rewarded and start at the top, when we all know you have to work your way up. They have been raised to be rewarded often and when you get into the workforce those rules change a bit," Harrington says.

But Millennials' ideas also have a positive influence on work environments. For instance, they expect their employer to be socially responsible and take part in community or philanthropic ventures, which is a good thing, Harrington says.

"To reach a good working balance, Millennials will have to change their ideas somewhat, but the work environment will also change to appeal to these very in-demand employees," he says.

With baby boomers retiring, fewer IT graduates and low unemployment rates in high-tech fields, the executives polled reported that hiring and retaining qualified candidates is the primary staffing challenge they face this year. Twenty-three percent of respondents said retaining existing staff is the top concern, while 22% said they struggle to find new qualified candidates.

"There is a shrinking talent pool of qualified IT professionals and some managers are talking about the graying of their current staff. They want to get young workers in here before those older staff members retire so they can retain that knowledge," Harrington says.

Many are saying pay will increase with demand. Some 45% of survey respondents said they expect salaries to increase in 2008 for non-certified IT staff. Employers are willing to train staff as well. About one-third said staff training in new technologies was their No. 1 priority, while 68% ranked training in their top three priorities for 2008. Training is just one way IT managers are looking to keep staff, Harrington says.

"The executives we talked to are looking at bonuses and incentives packages, co-op plans with colleges and universities, and working hard to get the right candidate in place and keep them," he adds. "There are more try-before-you-buy options for potential employees and employers, which could help balance out those expectations for young workers."

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