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leah eichler

What does a 24-year-old know about work?

Apparently enough to fill 144 pages, if the new book by Eric Termuende, authoritatively titled Rethink Work: Finding & Keeping The Right Talent, is any indicator.

In fairness, Mr. Termuende is the chief executive officer of Dryver Group, a boutique consultancy based in Calgary that helps organizations solve the "perceived" millennial problem.

When asked directly about what qualifies him to pen his short guide, available in stores in February, Mr. Termuende unabashedly acknowledges his limited years in the work force but argues his ideas aren't bound by age and experience.

"At 24, I haven't had many years in the work force, but like many of my peer and associates, I often hear about the dissatisfaction of work … Rethink Work isn't so much about my experience at work but the idea of work as a whole. Something needs to be changed if we are to remove the negative connotation associated with work and rehumanize the workplace."

So before sneering behind our theoretical bifocals, perhaps we should listen to a 24-year-old who wants to disrupt the way we think about work. The issues plaguing youth and employment certainly need some fresh ideas. A Statistics Canada report issued last week showed that fewer young Canadians who are not in school are working full-time today compared with 1976, citing the rise of part-time work trends.

While those low full-time employment rates applied specifically to those of ages 17 to 24, full-time workers of ages 25 to 34, who would fall under the "millennial" category, were also very likely to hold temporary jobs.

On the other hand, employers find it hard to retain younger talent, with an entire subsection of the human-resource industry dedicated to hiring and keeping younger workers, who are expected to spend fewer than three years in a job.

Mr. Termuende paints a fictional picture of this scenario in his book: Helen takes a job at a big bank, where she undergoes six months of technical training as well as four months of certification. Then after 10 months on the job, she asks her managers how the bank's products differ from their competitors and they dismiss her question. Believing that she was not expected to bring any critical thinking to the job, she leaves, despite offers of a promotion. Rather than dismissing Helen as entitled, she left as a result of a "dysfunctional relationship" between employee and employer, Mr. Termuende said.

While "cultural fit" has been a buzzword for some time in human-capital circles, one of the most disruptive arguments Mr. Termuende makes is that values and experience matter more than skills. For companies, that means avoiding job-opening descriptions that include very specific skills requirements for a given duration of years. For job seekers, he suggests doing more research about the company or role that fits your personal goals before spending considerable money learning new skills.

"It isn't so much that I don't value skills," Mr. Termuende explained. "It is more that fit is a bigger differentiator than skills, as skills can be acquired by numerous potential employees and fit is more unique."

One of the best pieces of advice he has come across for job seekers is to ask a recruiter to introduce you to someone in a similar role for a 30-minute talk over coffee. Then, by learning about their experience at work, a job seeker can determine fit earlier on. He goes on to suggest that once employees are happier at work, titles and even pay will matter less.

Finally, to truly "rethink work," Mr. Termuende argues it's time to get rid of qualifying terms such as "millennials" altogether, calling it a lazy stereotype that "blinds us."

"Generalizing about 21 per cent of the Canadian population for good reasons or bad isn't doing anyone any favours," he asserts.

"It is impossible to suggest that 7.5 million Canadians value or want the same thing, so to suggest that the entire cohort has anything in common other than years of birth doesn't capture the value of each person."

He doesn't stop at millennials, but thinks all terms that try to define a generation fall short. In the book, he quotes Laszlo Bock, Google's former senior vice-president of people operations, who told The New York Times detailed analysis of the tech giant's work force shows there is little difference between the needs of the different generations at work.

"Every single human being wants the same thing in the workplace – we want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done."

It's some no-nonsense advice from a 24-year-old who has barely been in the work force. Yet, given the amount of dissatisfaction we see on the job, this fresh perspective may be exactly what's needed.

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) writes about workplace trends.

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