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Published: September 3, 2013, 3:00 pm
Millennials grew up being told they could do anything. As adults, however, just paying the bills and putting food on the table have become ongoing challenges for too many.

“Literally every day we’re wondering how we’re going to make it, how we’re going to do it,” saidSean Copeland, a 28-year-old father from Toronto. “Our friends want kids and they want to get married and they want to move on, but they just can’t. It’s that financial burden they have sitting on top of them.”

In part two of our three-part series on Millennials, Postmedia News checks in on the 7.2 million Canadians born between 1979 and 1993 (about 21 per cent of the population) and asks about the challenges they face, as well as the challenges they themselves pose to brands, business and employers.

“Pretty much in all respects, it’s tougher today for Millennials than it was for boomers 30 or 40 years ago,” said Fred Vettese, chief actuary at human resources firm Morneau Shepell, citing slow economic recovery, housing costs and an employment logjam as the key culprits.

“We’re going to see a lot more Boomers retiring in the next five or so years, and those jobs everyone was talking about 10 years ago will finally start to materialize. It’s just taking longer than we expected.”


A 2013 BMO survey found Canadian students today expect to graduate with an average $26,297 in debt, with repayment typically taking nearly a decade. Unemployment among younger Millennials who aren’t in school is double that of other age groups. And a recent survey for Royal LePagefound more than seven in 10 Canadians born between 1980 and 1994 are pessimistic about their ability to own a home due to housing prices.

Millennial dad Copeland said his family’s monthly bills include $1,500 to $2,000 for daycare, $2,000 for their downtown Toronto apartment, and repayment of “huge student loans.” And until recently, they had to do it all on a single income, as his partner Cynthia was a full-time student — not that her six years of education have done anything to secure related employment.

“Although she just graduated from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the top teacher education program in the world, she has no chance of getting a job as a teacher due to the lack of opportunities,” said Copeland. “She recently obtained a part-time job as an administrative assistant after applying for more than 60 jobs over the past three months, getting only two interviews.”

Lauren Friese

Lauren Friese

Lauren Friese, a 30-year-old from Toronto, said her panic moment came prior to university graduation, when she and five fellow students realized over the course of a conversation that none of them had a plan for the future.

“That was the first time it occurred to me that there was a problem with the way Canada, society, transitioned people from school to the workplace,” said Friese.

All six friends opted for further education the following year. The experience ultimately planted the seeds for Talent Egg, an online campus recruitment firm Friese founded in 2008 to help Millennials better make the jump from school life to “the Wild West of being an adult.”

“Millennials have been coddled not only by their parents but also by the society and by the school system more than any other previous generation,” said Friese. “They’ve grown up with constant rewards, transparent expectations and constant feedback — and most of the time, that’s not the reality of the workforce.”


Part of the reason understanding these obstacles matters is that Millennials’ reactions, and subsequent approach to life, will in turn challenge businesses.

For instance, Harvard Business Review reports that nearly 95 per cent of young high-achievers will leave their job after just 28 months. Part of this is due to unrealistic expectations, with the average Millennial expecting their earnings to increase by 68 per cent during their first five years on the job.

“Their parents got a job for life, whereas Millennials get a job for right now,” said Sarah Crabbe, a senior vice-president at Edelman Canada, which recently undertook an international study of this demographic.

“The biggest message that came out of (our research) was the sheer power of Millennials and the overall impact they’re going to have… The old way of doing business does not work with them.”

Strikingly, a May study by Zeno Group found only six per cent of Millennial women aspire to be the head of a major organization. Seven in 10 expressed concern about achieving a balance between their personal and professional goals, and 84 per cent agreed that a leadership role for a woman demanded important sacrifices when it came to raising a family.

Cynthia Zamaria, managing director at Zeno Group Canada, said while she’s inspired by Millennials’ confidence to define success on their own terms, she’s also concerned about the implications for business.

“If they’re opting out because the sacrifices are too great, and if we’re not as employers, policymakers and advocates helping remove some of those barriers, then we’re not going to get the talent in those roles that we’re seeking,” said Zamaria.


Among those young people projected to be top earners, research by Pam Danziger — an affluence expert — suggests another obstacle will be tailoring business to suit the way Millennials spend. Her recent focus groups, for instance, reveal that this group finds status in achievement rather than purchases (i.e.; a $500 Ironman triathlon versus a $5,000 brand-name piece), and that they’re suspicious of marketing labels.

Alicia Storey

Alicia Storey

But it’s Millennials’ view of time as the ultimate luxury that will likely have the strongest reverberations for industry.

“It may be a choice they make that, ‘I’m not willing to work an 80-hour week; 40 is fine because I’ve got to have time for other things,’” said Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. “That will impact how much money they earn, which translates into how much money they have to spend.”

The good news for marketers is that the generation’s sheer size bodes well for bottom lines, with Advertising Age reporting that Millennials will spend some $10 trillion in their lifetimes. Gen Buy research additionally shows that 65 per cent of this demographic love to shop, compared with just 43 per cent of their older counterparts.

Toronto-based Millennial Alicia Storey said the challenge to businesses is to find the sweet spot.

“We think of ourselves as very distinct and unique individuals and want to be treated as such,” said Storey, 27. “When you look at the fact that there’s one billion of us globally, and we’re all hyper-connected, that’s a very powerful network that brands can tap into.”



Good Decisions Require Good Data.