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Gen Y: all grown up and revolutionizing the workplace

Gen Y

Generation Y is all grown up. These young people, born between the early eighties and mid-nineties, have been mixing things up in the workplace since they first made an appearance about five years ago. They soon earned a reputation among some older co-workers for keeping un-traditional work hours, dressing as they please, and flaunting entitled and idealistic attitudes. Some gave off the impression that they cared more about themselves and their own concepts of what was right or fair than about making a living wage. Today, the first generation to have grown up with computers is proving that they're a valuable addition to the workplace, tattoos and all. Bringing ambition, smarts and the tech skills companies desire to the table, Gen Y is changing the traditional workplace.

A recent study from PayScale.com, called Gen Y on the Job, gathered data from 500,000 Gen-Y-ers, which they define as anyone born between 1982 and 1993. The study went for a full year, starting in July of 2011. Not all of the data gathered came from the full half-million, but no subset was smaller than 75,000. The data presented below are from that study unless otherwise noted.

Gen Y in college

Those thick glasses aren't just stylish accessories -- Gen Y is packed with smart go-getters. Coming of age on an economic roller coaster has made this generation wary of the traditional, nine-to-five career paths of their parents. Highly technical, scientific fields top the list of popular college majors alongside entrepreneurism, which is becoming an hot-button career. Faced with a tough job market, Gen-Y-ers did the only logical thing: they created their own companies. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found in a recent study that the number of Gen Y's in the process of starting their own companies increased by 50 percent in the last year alone. Check common college majors for Gen-Y-ers by rank with July 2011-July 2012 national median annual salary data provided by PayScale.com:

  1. Neuroscience. As compared to all other bachelor's degree holders, Gen-Y-ers are 1.95 times as likely to major in the highly advanced field of studying the inner workings of the brain. Without the graduate degrees and doctorates common in this profession, members of Gen Y with only a bachelor's degree in neuroscience pulled down a national median wage of $39,186 annually, according to PayScale.
  2. Bioengineering. Another profession requiring highly skilled workers, Gen Y students are 1.86 times as likely to earn a bachelor's degree in bioengineering (also known as biomedical engineering). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this profession shows high levels of projected growth, on track to add a projected 9,700 new workers between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012). PayScale reported Gen-Y-ers earned a national median wage of $60,400 annually in this field.
  3. Entrepreneurial studies. Gen-Y-ers are 1.82 times as likely to earn a bachelor's degree in this field as their Gen X counterparts were. A recent study from a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurship, the Kauffman Foundation, found that today more than 2,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer at least one course in entrepreneurship. Generation Y's job-creating proclivities netted them a national annual median salary of $41,525 with this degree.

Gen Y in the workforce: behavior, ideals and top careers

The recession taught Gen-Y an important lesson about work: nothing matters more than results -- not even long hours, punctuality, attire, experience, years with the company or old-school professionalism. This approach originally made this group of young professionals seem to some as apathetic, lazy and entitled, but Gen Y has shown time and again that they get results, and companies are changing to suit. Indeed, the PayScale.com study shows that roughly 15 percent of Gen-Y workers were in managerial positions despite being the new kids on the block.

Members of this generation are willing to break their backs to get the job done, but it's going to be on their own terms. What makes a company appealing to Gen Y?

  • Pay
  • Job satisfaction
  • Low stress levels
  • Feeling that the work is meaningful
  • Flexible schedule
  • Eco-friendly operations

A look at some of the top-paying jobs held by Gen-Y-ers from July 2011 to July 2012 shows that these ambitious and intense young people know how to get things done:

  1. Petroleum engineer. For a case study of how things should have been done differently, one only needs to look as far back as 2010 and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to see that the petroleum industry could use a fresh approach. According to PayScale, Gen Y petroleum engineers made a national annual salary of $98,100 median, bringing their idealism to a complicated industry.
  2. Senior software engineer. Showing staying power and formidable tech skills, some Gen-Y-ers in software engineering have made it to senior levels before the age of 30. Those who earned this distinction brought home a national salary of $80,600 median annually, Payscale reported.
  3. Account director. This high-level business profession shows yet again that Gen Y can handle big responsibility and produce excellent results. One of the most interesting findings from PayScale.com's study was that more full-time Gen Y workers have MBAs than lack higher education. In this position, members of Generation Y made a national salary of $76,200 median annually.

As more and more Gen-Y-ers enter the workforce over the next few years, it's expected that things will continue to change, eventually leaving the traditional workplace behind -- for the better.