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A few thoughts about the rise of the Millennial

New management is on the way. Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, now make up 25 percent of the American workforce. The oldest members of that generation are headed into higher work responsibilities and management. The younger, of course, are still trickling into employment.

Generations are used as markers to measure social change over time. And if you follow the popular press, you may have noticed an inordinate number of stories trying to crack the Millennial nut. The gist has been that this particular generation shares a massive change in attitudes, employability and worldview.

Baby Boomers and the oldest members of Generation X have brought up our Millennials, and differently than parents in previous generations. The term “helicopter parent” became popular as a way to describe how parents of Millennials have tended to hover over their children. Good parents wanting good things for their children, goes the theory, thought they could fortify their childrens’ confidence and self esteem through constant praise and making them consistent winners—at least in their own minds.

A few years ago, Owen Hannay, owner of an advertising agency in Dallas famously said that Millennials are “over parented, overindulged and overprotected.”

“They get an apartment and a kitty, and they can’t cope. Work becomes an ancillary casualty. They’re good kids with talent who want to succeed. That’s what makes me nuts,” he told a Dallas Morning News reporter. That was in 2008. Since then, the generation has increasingly come into the workforce. A cottage industry has developed to advise employers how to manage Millennials.

Hannay’s broad statement wasn’t the most charitable. Millennials view the world differently, it’s true. But consider the social and economic environment they soaked up in their formative years. Economic turmoil with massive job loss; general economic malaise; a major terrorist attack; the ever-present computer phone; the dominance of social media— these have had a great influence on how Millennials see and act in the world. They connect differently. They approach the idea of loyalty differently. They consider their time as a currency. They see the future differently, but they want to succeed.

Millennials on the farm may share some of these outlooks with their urban cohorts, but not all of them. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, about 119,833 Millennials operate farms. That’s about 6 percent of total farmers.

Millennial farmers are more than just the one on the farm that can make the GPS work. They are working into real capital positions and represent the future of agriculture. But think about what agriculture has “always been” to them. Since they’ve been actively farming, herbicide-resistant cropping systems have always existed. To Millennials, farmers without soil mapping and yield data are flying blind. These young farmers have always done business via cell phone or e-mail from the cab of the tractor or pickup as they check the cows.

What farming Millennials have in common with the entire generation is a quick adaptation of technology and seeking new channels of communicating. If you want a response, text.

In general terms, Millennials seek recognition for the work that they do. While a lot of business publications lament the fact that Millennials have a hard time with the structure of a workplace, human resources consultants almost universally suggest that positive feedback is a critical tool for managing them.

Farming Millennials have learned a few lessons that separate them from the rest of their generation. You don’t always win on the farm. You can pull the calf, but it might die. The drought doesn’t bother worrying about your self-esteem.

I doubt that Hannay, that advertising agency owner, hired any farm kids.

Here is one place that the farm levels out the differences between generations. There is a time to sow and a time to reap, after all. Flextime won’t work in spring or fall. No generational attitudes can alter that.

We should let young people help make decisions in agriculture, but we ought not to kowtow to their worldview. Farm experience means something. And yours can improve the Millennial generation. Use your experience as a guidepost to explain the hows and whys of managing your operation. If you do, Millennials will observe the wisdom you may have gained, absorb it and then use it to help frame their own worldview.

Then they’ll post it on Facebook.

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