Engineering with the Millennials

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Millennial young woman engineer


As baby boomers step aside from the workforce, the millennials are moving in. They already make up the largest share of the workforce by generation, and it’s time for technology-focused enterprises to discard old assumptions and take a closer look at this cohort on its merits. To attract, retain, and leverage millennials, it’s important to understand how their traits influence the way they navigate engineering enterprises and handle technical challenges.

How to Recruit and Retain Millennials in Engineering — A Bird’s Eye View

Many analyses of millennials and what they want have focused on work-life balance and creating a fun workplace. However applicable these concepts might be, they can easily turn into generalities that are difficult to take action on. To understand millennials, it’s important to take them within their social and economic context.

Millennials are increasingly eschewing ideas that were commonplace a few years ago: For example, forgoing homeownership, marrying later in life, and often cutting back on luxuries. Why? The term millennial encompasses a broad range, from the early 20s to 30s, but economic uncertainty and lowered expectations have impacted many. For these reasons, job stability and company loyalty can be more attractive than one might expect.

To recruit millennials, enterprises should look at pay first — and benefits a close second. When considering retention, remember millennials are used to striving for high standards. This can be an especially potent lever of motivation in the engineering world since opportunities for training and classes can significantly impact day-to-day performance. That, in turn, gives younger workers more influence over their ultimate career trajectory.

Combined with timely feedback and positive reinforcement, a strong emphasis on talent development can be the key to reducing turnover among millennials. Studies have shown that young people switch jobs more frequently than similar age cohorts in the past — moving to a new role every 2-3 years. The opportunity to take on leadership roles, however, can drive longer millennial retention.

Expectations, Attitudes, and Work/Life Habits — and How They Impact Engineering

Over the past few years, exhaustive analyses have been conducted on millennials’ psychological traits. While some are incisive, few were developed with engineering in mind. For this reason, many treatments overlook the ways in which the millennial psyche reflects the core values of engineering as a discipline.

Some of these include:

  • Innovation: Like engineers, millennials are rarely content to sit back and assume that the best way to do something is the way it has always been done. With the right knowledge and skills, their inclination to push against the status quo can pay off when dealing with any novel problem.
  • Creativity: While today’s managers and executives had to be taught to think outside the box, this has been a part of the millennial experience since day one. Within a short time, millennials have lived through multiple tectonic shifts in technology. They are willing to approach things in unconventional ways and encourage colleagues to do the same.
  • Passion: Millennials are deeply connected to technology and the challenges engineers face. They want to be involved in pushing the envelope and reaching new frontiers. When given support, encouragement, and resources, they can be fully dedicated to a task until they see it through — as long as they understand where it fits into the big picture.
  • Analytical Ability: Partially because of a willingness to share ideas and try anything, many millennials have developed strong analytical skills. Quite a few millennials in the workplace may come from a humanities or liberal arts background before they developed engineering skills, giving them unusual problem-solving perspectives.

Millennials have already brought startup culture to a number of engineering disciplines — incubating innovation in a close-knit environment. It largely remains to be seen how their cultural preferences will translate to multinational enterprises. One thing is certain, however: The age of the millennial has begun, and even the most conservative industries are changing in response.

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Ohio University offers an advanced degree program for engineers who want to become leaders without losing their foundation in engineering. Our online Master of Engineering Management focuses on leadership and management skills and their direct relationship to engineering process improvement, project management, effective communication, and innovative solutions.


Engineering, “How Can Manufacturers Attract More Millennials? Spend More Money”
Engineering Search Partners, Recruiting on Purpose, “Attracting and Keeping Millennial Talent”
Elevation Marketing, “How Will the Millennial Engineer Change High-Tech Marketing?”
Forbes, “The Future of Work: Job Hopping Is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials”
Pew Research Center, “Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force”