Millennial Mind

Letter to Gen Z from a millennial

Some preferences differ, but both groups can be called Generations, Disrupted – entering the workforce in an age of crisis and pandemics

Gen Z or millennial, we need to come together to build a world where our future generations are prepared to deal with the next global crisis.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Dear Gen Z,

The other day, my 22-year-old brother rose early, ate a hearty breakfast and changed into a fresh T-shirt - in order to sit an examination in his bedroom.

Like many of you during this prolonged pandemic, his end-semester examinations are being conducted online. That day, the paper was Business Law.

He is in his first year studying business analytics at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. During his online classes throughout the semester, my mother and I would leave snacks and drinks outside his den so he could pick them up when he was free in between classes.

His collegiate experience has been reduced to the four walls of a room, thanks to Covid-19. Many of you would have had similar experiences - a far cry from the fabled stories of exciting campus life you undoubtedly would have heard about from your millennial (1981-1996) siblings of arts festivals on campus and late-night parties.

Watching the way he - like many other Gen Z students around the world - went about his online studies cheerfully, I marvelled at the fortitude he showed.

University life is just one of the many differences in experiences and expectations that divide your age group (born after 1996) and mine.

Some differences are rather comical: taste in jeans and emoji, for example. Millennials like skinny jeans while Gen Z, who are advocates for more body positivity and inclusiveness, like loose slacks and flared denims.

While we are both digital natives, growing up in an age when Internet use is the norm, our social media use also differs.

I have heard most of you have a public and private account on social media platforms, making me question the lengths I've gone to to control what conservative relatives see on my one account.

I remember watching in horror as one of you posted a tearful video of a post-breakup meltdown on social media. To the millennial me, growing up with filters and hashtags like #YouOnlyLiveOnce, that felt too personal and uncomfortable to watch.

Your views on governance and public service vary from ours, as does your opinion on corporate social responsibility and consumerism.

According to a Pew Research Centre report on American Gen Z published in May last year, "members of Gen Z are more likely than older generations to look to the government to solve problems, rather than businesses and individuals". The study found that seven in 10 American Gen Zers say the government should do more to solve problems.

A McKinsey report on Gen Z's consumer trends in the Asia-Pacific region found that you prefer to research online before shopping and are not comfortable sharing personal information with retailers.

In one sense, though, we are similar. We are both Generations, Disrupted. They used to call us the Great Recessionals after the 2008 financial crisis that many of us graduated into. And now, we've both got a raging pandemic to deal with.

Your diminished milestones are college, travelling and interning. Things we have to delay or give up include getting married with a bang and holding housewarming parties and baby showers.

Despite some marginal differences in experience and views, I think there is still much that ties us together.

Both our generations are passionate about climate change and environmental conservation.

According to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020, respondents from both generations ranked protecting the earth as a top concern before and during a global health and economic crisis.

A majority of respondents surveyed during the pandemic also said that it reinforced their desire to help their communities in the future as the crisis highlighted new issues and made them sympathetic to the needs of others.

It's better to band together than let skinny jeans tear us apart. After all, we have much to fight for after this pandemic is over.

Hopefully, this pandemic will come to a close as you wind up your studies and enter the workforce. But here, you may face obstacles you didn't expect.

You may be up against millennials who were late graduates trying to find their own way. You may find job skills and demands have changed at an accelerated rate. You may lack practical experience and networking skills that will hinder you when you join the workforce.

The oldest millennials faced similar challenges entering the workforce fresh out of school and finding employers that would pick them over more experienced Generation X employees in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

That crisis brought with it underemployment, and the lost opportunity to accrue wealth from a young age like the generations before us.

As a millennial born in 1995, I was advised by older cousins who had graduated in the thick of the recession about how to boost employability and how much pay to expect. Although things improved by the time I graduated, I was grateful to them for sharing their experience because it taught me how to tackle unpredictable obstacles like the pandemic.

Here are some tips on keeping yourself relevant in the post-pandemic world.

One: Use the resources available in the digital world to prepare yourself for a competitive future. Brush up on your skills in those gap years after polytechnic, junior college or even university by turning to platforms like Coursera and Udemy which offer you certifications.

Online language platform Preply pairs students with private tutors who teach them a new language for an hourly rate through video calls. Besides learning, say, German or Japanese, this may also help you develop interview skills and feel comfortable holding a conversation with a stranger.

Two: Add some meaningful community service to your resume. The United Nations Volunteers website regularly posts calls for online volunteering stints or opportunities in your country.

Depending on the Covid-19 restrictions in place, you can also try local volunteering stints at community organisations like Kampung Kakis, or self-help groups such as Yayasan Mendaki, the Chinese Development Assistance Council or Singapore Indian Development Association.

Three: Network. Many job opportunities are spread through word of mouth or alumni, professional or business networks. Living in this socially distanced world is an advantage for newbies, since many conferences and webinars are now live-streamed and accessible, cheaply or free, to audiences worldwide, including students like you.

Attending these helps you get up to date with trends and issues and gives you an opportunity to engage experts, say, with a good question. You can then follow up with a personal e-mail to introduce yourself after the event.

As my brother starts his first internship stint next week, I will be checking in on his progress and helping him identify his unique strengths and weaknesses for the future.

After all, Gen Z or millennial, we need to come together to build a world where our future generations are prepared to deal with the next global crisis.

At this point, both you and I know that calamities can't always be prevented. But with a little effort across borders and a lot of cooperation between nations, they can be contained.


Millennial Mind

The Straits Times newsroom's millennials - those born in the 1980s and 1990s - tackle issues close to their hearts in this new column.