As Millennials continue to come of age and a new wave of architects settles into the workforce, there has been a lot of discussion about what this generation means for the profession of architecture. The work ethic, attitudes, skills, and career aspirations of these up-and-coming young professionals are starting to change the way architecture firms operate, communicate, and reward good performance- whether these studios like it or not.

Millennials, themselves, are a kind of disruption to the industry’s status quo- a disruption that has left many of today’s senior leaders baffled and unsure about how to proceed. But as Millennials become the largest generation in the workforce, it’s an issue that needs to be figured out, and fast.

While Millennials are certainly leaving their mark when it comes to the trends in design and architecture, in this series, we’ll focus more on who Millennials are, how they are changing the systems that support the design and build process, as well as consider some concrete ways firms can (and should) respond to it all.

 

A Millennial is Born

Before we can explain how Millennials are redefining and reshaping the architecture industry, we first need a little background.

The Millennial generation are those born between 1980–2000, give or take a few years. Though the generation spans two decades, those in this cohort share many distinct characteristics, even across cultural and geographical lines. Millennials have come of age during a period of tremendous technological, political, economic and social disruption. In it’s wake, emerged a generation of young adults who have grown accustomed to change and of challenging the status quo. As one author put it, “They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one.”

Part of this has to do with the fact that they are “digital natives.” Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with the Internet and personal computers as well as a whole host of mobile devices, apps, and social platforms. It’s not just that they are comfortable with technology. It’s that their cell phones and other connected devices are their instinctive, go-to portal for acquiring information and conducting some of the most basic daily transactions, such as making purchases, setting an appointment, or sending someone money… and, this technology enables them to do the vast majority of these things in an instant.

If you have been paying attention, most of the articles written about Millennials over the past few years are quick to highlight a range of the negative stereotypes, such as:

●     They struggle with face-to-face social interactions

●     They are narcissistic and have a hard time handling failure

●     They lack basic life and workplace skills

●     They are easily distracted

But, there are many positive stereotypes, too:

●     They are confident, connected, and open to change

●     They actively seek feedback to help them improve performance

●     They are curious and passionate learners, excited to acquire new skills and experiences

●     They are open to collaboration in order to work smarter, not harder

Obviously, these are broad stereotypes, and not every Millennial will fit in. That’s not the point. These qualities are backed by a tremendous amount of research, subjective and objective assessments- even from Millennials themselves. To simply ignore them is the equivalent of putting your head in the sand, and all that’s likely to do is give you a headache.

Passing the Torch

Leaders in architecture, and throughout the working world, need to not only figure out this unique, transient, often contradictory cohort, but come to terms with the fact that change in the workplace is necessary, and some of that change may not be so easy.

As Baby Boomers reach retirement, it’s not just that the largest generation to ever be in the workforce is being replaced, it’s that the entire practice of doing business is evolving into something totally new and different. Many senior leaders in architecture and most other industries have been struggling to come to terms with this uncharted territory. But instead of fearing it or fighting it, this transition can be an exciting opportunity for renewal and for redefining the role of the architect in the built world.