Why Millennials Say No to High-Paying Labor Jobs

It’s not your imagination. A lot of young people are saying no to high-paying labor jobs and are working across the street at the mall for less than half the pay. Stranger yet is that when there’s not another option and only a labor job, they’re still saying no and staying home – or in their parents’ home, to be more accurate.

What’s the No. 1 reason they give in anonymous interviews for refusing the labor job? Safety. That’s right. Even though blue-collar stigma and concerns about transferable job skills may make
the list, safety is the No. 1 reason people aren’t taking labor jobs, regardless of pay and opportunity.

The Facts

  • With 6.1 million people looking for 6.9 million jobs, finding qualified employees has never been more challenging.
  • The American educational system told an entire generation of students that not getting a college degree means you’re a loser – and therefore trade schools lost popularity.
  • Being born in the era of 9/11 makes young people sensitive to danger and causes them to feel differently about safety than previous generations have felt. Millennials aren’t afraid the plane will crash; they’re afraid someone will crash the plane!

The Fear

When a group of young people was told that a particular labor job they had taken was very safe, they responded, “Then why are we all wearing helmets and gloves and having a safety meeting right now?” Convinced that anything can happen, this generation uses the word “random” in nearly every conversation. Gen Y may feel that accidents are inevitable.

The Future

Unless we can show that people can be protected, and until Gen Y comes to believe such protection is possible, it may become increasingly difficult to attract Gen Y employees.

Actions and Tactics

Brand your company with safety as a foundation. Be direct with an honest and believable message: “Safety comes first because (1) if you’re dead or injured, you can’t do the job, and (2)
if we have too many incidents, we get pulled off the vendor list and are out of business.” I’m not saying that the message “We care about people and value our employees’ safety” isn’t valid, but you’ll want to mix it with the reality of how people under 30 have little trust in corporate
America.

And finally, show them that safety and productivity go hand in hand and that there’s not a financial advantage to lowering safety standards. Without attracting young people, your company doesn’t have a future. So invest in safety by  holding workshops and having annual meetings featuring safety speakers. Make sure people know that their managers are also exposed to safety training and information. Explain that teams with members who know each other, like each other and look out for each other have the fewest fatalities and injuries.

Ongoing Gallup surveys 1 of people in the workplace indicate that people under 30 are very focused on relationships, their friends, and their friends’ well-being. In fact, most respondents 2 (58% of men and 74% of women) said they wouldn’t swap their work relationships for a higher- paying job. So, as employers hoping to attract younger candidates, we need to clearly
communicate that we foster this concept of camaraderie and team well-being.

Create a culture of safety in which people look out for each other while of course practicing self-awareness. As we face an increasing talent shortage and an improving economy, we need to do everything possible to let job seekers know that safety is the foundation of our culture … and that not only are we doing all we can to make the job safe, but in fact we have already succeeded.

1 The Gallup Organization’s “State of the American Workplace,” February 2017. https://news.gallup.com/reports/178514/state-
american-workplace.aspx


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