Understanding engineers in the Generation Y

They hardly wear ties or pant suits into the office; they text; some Tweet; they definitely have a Facebook account; they are highly technical and conversant with social media and mobile technologies. These are Generation Y, better known as Millennials or simply those born between 1976 and 1994. The characteristics of this generation vary from place but the underlying similarity is that are highly influenced by technology. Generation Y has also been called the “entitlement generation” — self indulgent and full of overzealous self esteem.

Now as the elder members of this generation are slowly being integrated into meaningful positions within the engineering workforce, it is a good idea to understand what it is that defines them and what to expect from them.


One obvious fact we should highlight is that the Millennials grew up in a time during which the internet caused great change in how people communicate and exchange information. As a result, this generation continues to question traditional ways of doing things by constantly pushing for more connectivity and use of web-based applications. The fact that this is also the generation that popularized social networking sites like Facebook, embraced instant messaging, and replaced phone calls with texts may explain why this generation is known for being peer-oriented and expecting instant gratification.

Socially conscious

If you look at the events that have shaped this generation you will agree with the assessment that the generation is socially conscious and has a deep sense of entitlement.  This so because so many technological advancements have occurred within their lifetime which allowed for more connectivity and social collaboration. Much recently this generation was directly affected by the chaotic downtown in the economy which saw many of them jobless or unable to find jobs right after college. The fact that they were not in control of the situation might further cement their social-conscious attitudes by building a desire to never let a similar situation occur.

The next ‘Greatest Generation’

The 2008 election of a young, charismatic, social-conscious president is one of the events that shaped the beliefs of this generation. According to Kurt Andersen’s book Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America, many among the Millennial Generation view the 2008 election of Barack Obama as uniquely theirs, and he writes about this generational consensus building as being more healthy and useful than the counterculture protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s, going as far to say that if Millennials can

keep their sense of entitlement in check, they might just turn out to be the next Greatest Generation.

How do deal with them in the workforce

There are presently more than 32 million Millennials in the workforce and most likely some of them are in your company’s payroll. This guide points out some of the key traits that define this generation and presents simple strategies on dealing with this generation in the workplace while also leveraging them to maximize their potential.

1. Provide guidance

generation-Y-groups Provide challenges but also provide the structure to back it up. This means breaking down goals into steps, as well as offering any necessary resources and information needed to meet the challenge. You might consider mentoring Millennials in groups, because they work so well in team situations. That way they can act as each others resources or peer mentors.

2. Set Expectations

Many engineering employers consulted during the research for this article shared with us that their Gen Y employees constantly get distracted by spending too much time researching for more information, usually at the expense of losing sight of the task at hand. From this we gathered that, while you can trust them to do quality work; you just have to check on them now and again. Turning them loose could put you behind schedule or frustrate both of you. Setting expectations should include a short list of what you want done, a time line and the most important part to them — why you want it done.

Next – 3. Provide constant feedback – 4. Expect Resistance – 5. Take them seriously

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  1. I find the suggestion of mentoring in groups intriguing. What do you think, Millennials? Better in groups or would you prefer individual mentoring?

    1. I am 26, so I guess I fall in this generation.
      I prefer being part of a group during mentor ship. The only requirement is that the group be small enough so that you feel as if you are getting the individual attention.

  2. Interesting post. I refer you to Dan Schawbel’s Me 2.0 and his Personal Branding Blog, written by and directed to Gen Y’s. The blog and book focus on the business-oriented segment of Gen Y. However, much of what Dan says is applicable to this socially-conscious, internet-savvy and important generation as a whole. I feel seeking common denominators across generations of engineers, rather than taking a generationally segmented, stereo-typical approach, may be a more viable perspective. Haven’t engineers been “Dilbertized” enough?

    1. I think it is a good idea to seek the so-called commonalities; however we can’t ignore the defining traits that have shaped the generations. Paramount of these being technology and how people interact; both of which are feats that will define how things get done when Gen y’s take the wheel. While, it is a good idea to find commonalities to help you with knowing how to interact with people, I believe that understanding the distinguishing traits that define a particular generation is equally important.
      Case-in-point, I recently suggested to a much elder VP that we should have a facebook page as a corporation. This idea was quickly shut down in favor of a more “traditional approach.” What Mr. Baby Boomer did not understand was that the times are changing and a move to a digital presence is crucial in establishing a foothold in an emerging market.
      Yes we can celebrate commonalities but until the prevailing characteristics are respected, I think we would only be setting ourselves up for unnecessary conflicts.

  3. I don’t agree with the Gen Ys’ feeling entitled. I fall under this and have plenty of friends and coworkers in this group. Most of them are very hard working trying to better themselves and don’t ask for very much in return.

    I do agree that if I am given a task I will try to do more research. That going the extra mile would be a very big plus in most situations. I know if you turn me loose on a project I will attempt to make that project fit into the companies standards and fix any errors I see. This is sometimes seen as losing sight at the task.

    This is why I had a goal of starting my own company so I could work under my own standards and ethics. And now I own my Civil Engineering company, which is part of that hardworking Gen Y I was talking about.

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