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CEO, car2go North America.

Even though millennials became the largest generation in the Canadian work force more than two years ago, it's still common to discuss this generation as if they're still the kids in the back seat of the car, instead of the colleagues and leaders who, in actuality, are helping drive Canada's economy forward.

While I miss the cut by a "few" years, I work alongside millennials every day. And while they're often painted by research studies as self-centered, frivolous with their money and entitled, I find them to be among the most productive, most responsible employees at the company. So, I refuse to define millennials by common tropes or traits. Instead, I see them as a creative, scrappy generation using all the tools and technology available to them to live rich, rewarding lives.

Here's how I believe that unique approach to life has led to the birth and growth of the sharing economy:

Millennial economics

Young people face a much different financial outlook than their parents once did. After three decades of stagnant wages, the financial crisis and resulting recession, the gap between the wealthy and the middle class is growing increasingly wide. Coupled with high student-loan debt, millennials are caught between a rock and a hard place, contending with lower paying jobs and higher unemployment well beyond that experienced by their parents.

In this environment, financial milestones that were once common markers of prior generations' success – new car, new home, early retirement – now seem completely unattainable to many young people.

The attainability gap

Recently, car2go conducted research to better understand millennials' perception of the attainability of these markers of success. What we learned is that for our younger members, the quest for ownership is not dead.

The survey of 1,800 people in major Canadian and U.S. cities revealed that while 66 per cent of consumers hope to purchase a primary home, just 34 per cent believe they can achieve their goal in the coming year – an "attainability gap" of 32 per cent. Similarly, while 55 per cent of consumers surveyed are interested in purchasing a car, just 46 per cent feel that goal is attainable.

So, while young people today still desire the same material hallmarks of success as their parents once did, they're not willing to go into debt to get them. Rather, they're ready to wait until they have the financial means necessary to make those milestone purchases.

Often described as entitled, this research shows that, in reality, the millennial generation is incredibly responsible, displaying a high awareness of the cost of ownership and weighing their desire for big-ticket items against a need to pay down rising debt.

Living in the sharing economy

Almost every day an enterprising young colleague comes into my office with an idea on how we could improve the business or do something better. So, it comes as no surprise to me that millennials, raised in an age of innovation, have figured out how to use technology as a life hack to help them live fuller lives today without sacrificing any of their future goals.

This is essentially the sharing economy in a nutshell. Estimated to grow to $335-billion by 2025, the sharing economy has expanded access to sought-after assets such as cars and vacation accommodations, while at the same time drastically reducing the associated costs.

Take the example of privately owned vehicles, which sit unused 95 per cent of their lifetime. While previous generations were more than comfortable taking on debt to buy a new car, knowing they had a secure wage and a pension in their back pocket, young people today are instead taking advantage of the sharing economy until they arrive at a point in their lives where they can truly afford a vehicle. It is for this reason why millennials represent at least half of car2go's 900,000-plus members and are easily among the heaviest users of our car-sharing services.

While many of my younger colleagues and the millions of young people who car-share may eventually follow that same pattern of life as previous generations (buy a car, move into a house, have kids, etc.), it's about time we recognize millennials for who they are right now: an industrious generation using technology and shared services to achieve strong quality of life on their own terms.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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