Editorial: Millennials: The New Guard

June
,
2018
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Speak the moniker Millennial and you will undoubtedly be met with a barrage of negative associations and perceived character flaws. You could say that this is part of a pattern — previous generations, under threat of becoming obsolete, lash out. This time, however, it feels unique. It has become a casual pastime to beat up on Millennials — even among Millennials.

The critiques have become tired, and I would also argue, inaccurate. Regardless, Millennials aren’t going anywhere. In fact, Stewart Behie and Matthew Henwood’s article on pp. 36–41, “Closing the Skills Gap,” explains that they will soon account for the majority of the workforce. It is time to accept this new generation and all learn to work — to thrive — together.

At the AIChE Spring Meeting in Orlando, FL, Mark Vergnano, President and CEO of Chemours, gave the AGILE Award Keynote Address in which he presented Chemours’ plan to revolutionize its corporate culture, which strikes a balance between new and old. Customer focus, unshakable integrity, and safety obsession form the foundation of the company’s plan. Essential as they may be, these are not exactly new ideas in the corporate sector. Collective entrepreneurship and refreshing simplicity, which build on this foundation, are ideas that speak to the younger generation’s hunger for a new approach.

The Economic Innovation Group reports that Millennials value entrepreneurship and think it is vital to the economy, but personally consider it out of reach. With 58% of Millennials saddled with student loan debt, this should be no surprise. In Inc. magazine, Bill Green, founder and CEO of the Crestar Group of Companies and LendingOne, explains that successful companies are harnessing Millennial interest in entrepreneurship by grooming “intrapreneurs.” Chemours is taking this approach: “We want all employees to feel completely free to exercise their entrepreneurial muscles by sharing ideas that could help improve the company,” says Vergnano. The intent is to flatten the corporate structure and encourage employees to “make decisions and problem-solve like you own the place,” he continues.

Chemours is fostering this entrepreneurial spirit through collaboration, not consensus. Vergnano says that consensus can be slow and requires compromises that can dilute bold ideas, tempering their impact. Collaboration, on the other hand, allows anyone to bring an idea to the table, but it is up to the experts to make the final decision. Perhaps fewer ideas will become a reality, but the impact of good ideas will be maintained and felt more quickly.

Speed is a value of a generation often critiqued for having a short attention span. But, impatience may be a virtue. Millennials are not satisfied with traditional bureaucratic and slow-moving institutions and are not ready to settle for a flawed approach simply because of precedent. Chemours’ drive for simplicity is also a drive for speed. Instead of, for example, relying on white papers to funnel proposals to decision-makers, which often takes time for lengthy reviews, the company is facilitating “data-rich conversations between proposers and decision-makers,” to expedite progress, says Vergnano.

New values, preferences, and approaches are often met with resistance only to later be embraced as the norm. It takes humility to be able to cheer on and support your successors, but this an important step to take because Millennial success means economic success for us all.

Elizabeth Pavone, Associate Editor

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