Bernardo M. Villegas
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Getting to Understand the Millennials (Part 1)

          I have been in education for more than sixty years, having started to teach at the age of 17.  Over these three generations, I have tried to understand the psyche of my students who were usually in their teens or in their early twenties.  I had little difficulty in relating to the baby boomers (those born from 1946 to 1965) and Generation X (those born between 1966 and the early 1980s).  They generally came from traditional Filipino families whose values were the same ones that prevailed in my own family.  I can no longer say the same thing about the young people who were born after 1980 (the millennials) and not to mention the generation Z to which my grandnephews and grandnieces belong (those born after 2000).   Since I continue to be involved in education, I must make the effort to understand, not only the adolescents of today but also the young professionals (yuppies), many of whom remain unmarried and stay with their parents till at least their late twenties and who are the ones who take up graduate studies where I come into contact with them (I will be teaching until I am six feet deep in the ground).

         That is why I appreciate the efforts of educational experts who make the heroic effort to understand the make up and motivations of the millennials and those of Generation Z. One such educational expert whose advice I seek is Dr. Antonio Torralba, a colleague of mine at the University of Asia and the Pacific.  Because of his long-term focus on values education (he was one of the first graduates of our Master of Arts in Economics Education at UA&P and helped put up the Master of Arts in Values Education in the same institution), he is one of the most knowledgeable professionals about the inner motivations of the Filipino youth. He has written many articles and books on how to foster the appropriate values among adolescents over the last three decades.  More recently, he has been focusing on understanding  the so-called millennials and those of Generation Z.  In the last quarter of this year, he conducted several workshops and roundtable discussions with young people in their twenties and early thirties (those born between 1990 to 2000) as regards their self-identity, family life, sexuality, relationships and religious faith. 

         With his permission, I summarize some of his preliminary findings to serve as a guide to both parents and educators who face the challenge of continuing to form and guide these yuppies.  As an initial thesis, he found these young people to be determined, know what they want and actually go for it.  They are seemingly active, engaged in many things. Social media is a stronger influence than their own parents; teachers hardly contribute to the formation of ideas and ideals.  They are impatient and remain dependent on their parents.  The women are stronger than their baby boomer mothers; they feel empowered, more confident, know what they want.  They sometimes find their parents overbearing, an impression they have which may actually be based on reality.

         Those born after 2000 (Generation Z) came to the world with a smart phone in their hands.  They are “digital natives”, spending a huge part of their time in social media.  It is a challenge to get them out of their bedrooms since they have a lot of things in in their minds and acting them up.  They appear to be lazy, many times simply trying to figure out what they want to do and depend on instant gratification (the quick way up).  They hardly find time to spend with their parents because everyone is so involved in social media and pressures of material survival.

         As regards self-identity, the millennials are heavily tied to social media.  They are quite conscious about how they project themselves through this media.  Comparison with one another is daily, even hourly, based on social media feeds.  Depression is becoming a dominant factor.   Youth are “connected but disconnected” because connection is virtual.  Online life is not real life.  Greater exposure to virtual rather than real life is creating deeper personal and social challenges.  The young easily get discouraged because they are getting used to have things easily attainable.  Achievement of their dreams is often hacked.  They expect so much from life but there is lack of realism, little understanding of reality and the opportunities to re-shape and re-tool it the hard way.

            One may get the impression that these characteristics may render the millennials unfit for productive work in the business world.  As pointed out in a recent article by Oscar Visaya, Country Manager of FS Networks Philippines, reports from The Economist and Forbes have debunked these misconceptions.  Millennials can be the most hardworking professionals in today’s work force—as long as they have a workplace that matches their needs.  They have to be provided with the appropriate digital and other devices which they use to produce the maximum output using the least input.  They tend to use gadgets for multiple purposes both in their personal life and professional work.  As Mr. Visaya wrote:  “Millennials want to pack in a lot of tasks within the shortest possible time frame.  They demand two-way feedback and the ability to connect, engage, and collaborate at their fingertips.”  This is especially true with professionals whose training included a big dose of quantitative analysis and information technology as in the case of the industrial economics students I teach at the University of Asia and the Pacific.   (To be continued).