Tech Firms Pony Up Pay for Top Gen Y Workers

By Meg Breslin

Sep. 20, 2012

While much of the news on Generation Y salaries and jobs has been discouraging of late, there are bright spots for younger workers with the right skills. A recent study of 18- to 29-year-old workers reported average salaries as high as $90,000 at some technology firms.

The study, released in August by PayScale Inc., a provider of compensation data, and Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting company, found that younger workers clearly preferred technology companies partly because of the more competitive salaries they offered.

On the other hand, Gen Y, also referred to as the millennial generation and roughly defined as people born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, appreciated the emphasis on innovation and the more flexible workplace culture found at many high-tech firms. They also gravitated to smaller companies with those types of features, says Dan Schawbel, 29, founder of Millennial Branding and a leader behind the study.

The highest-ranked companies by Gen Y in Schawbel’s study were Qualcomm Inc., Google Inc., Medtronic Inc., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. In addition to generous salaries and flexibility, the top firms offered a sense of fulfillment and relatively low job stress.

The median pay for Gen Y workers was $90,600 at Qualcomm and $92,800 at Microsoft, the survey reported. Still, pay for the typical millennial employees were far less, with average salaries at $39,700.

The study underscored an obvious challenge for Gen Y job seekers today: Those high-paying jobs are extremely tough to find and are set aside mostly for highly skilled engineers and software designers, Schawbel said. At the same time, many workers won’t find jobs in the fields they trained to work.

“The reason [technology companies] pay more is, there’s a talent shortage in those areas,” Schawbel says. “A lot of people think there’s an overall lack of jobs. In fact, the jobs that are available are the ones that are much harder to fill.”

The statistic that really grabbed Schawbel’s attention was also discouraging: More than 63 percent of Gen Y workers have a bachelor’s degree, but the most commonly reported jobs for Gen Y don’t necessarily require a college degree. For instance, Gen Y workers are more likely than other U.S. workers to have jobs as merchandise displayers at a mall, or as clothing and cellphone salespeople.

That’s a revealing data point to another Gen Y expert, Razor Suleman, founder and chairman of Achievers Corp., a San Francisco-based employee rewards and recognition consulting firm.

“Just think about Apple, the most valuable company on the planet … yet 30,000 of their 40,000 employees—the majority of their workforce—are in retail stores, and I can guarantee you they’re not being paid $90,000,” Suleman says.

Many Gen Y experts have serious concerns about the lack of solid opportunities ahead for younger workers, even though this generation will increasingly have to fill the gap for a retiring baby boomer workforce. Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers University professor who has studied Gen Y extensively, was surprised to see how much younger college graduates valued job security in a recent nationwide study he conducted with Net Impact, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

“When I asked about the seven attributes that were most important to them in their job, being financially secure was at the top. This is supposedly this very entrepreneurial, positive, can-do generation, and the first thing that comes out is being financially secure,” Zukin says. “Clearly, they’ve been impacted by the recession and they’re scared.”

In fact, Zukin says the youngest college graduates will have different values than the previous generation, likely more cautious about their career choices and possibly less entrepreneurial. “I think the millennial generation is dead,” he says. “This is the recession generation. … It’s going to define their lives.”

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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