By Camilla Lund Andersen

May 31, 2017

It seems fitting that we are launching our redesigned magazine with a cover dedicated to millennials and the future of work. But while Finance & Development has mainly changed its appearance, not its content, young adults may have to make more fundamental adjustments to keep pace with the requirements of tomorrow’s workplace. Millennials face myriad challenges as they seek to carve out a prosperous future for themselves.

For a start, there is the changing nature of work itself. Whereas baby boomers and Generation Xers stood a good chance of landing a regular full-time job with benefits such as paid leave and a generous pension, today’s young people find it much harder to secure full-time jobs, often working instead in what has been dubbed the “sharing economy.” About 40 percent of independent workers in the United States who make a living as freelancers are millennials, according to New York University professor Arun Sundararajan.

Then there is the fact that millennials got their timing horribly wrong, as they began to enter the work force during the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. In many countries, youth unemployment spiked at over 20 percent of the work force, and it remains stubbornly high.

Add to that the confluence of other factors that prevent millennials from building wealth, such the rapidly escalating cost of education, delayed home ownership, and the uncertainty of retirement income. Millennials will play financial catch-up for years to come, and will bear much greater personal responsibility for their financial future than their parents, write Lisa Dettling and Joanne Hsu from the US Federal Reserve.

Technology is a double-edged sword for millennials. The digital economy has enabled the creation of millions of new jobs but artificial intelligence and robotics may soon displace even complex human activities such as driving a car, providing health care, and giving legal advice. Staying competitive in tomorrow’s economy will therefore require lifelong learning, writes the IMF’s Nagwa Riad.  

What to make of it all? We asked five millennials from around the world. One of them, Kathy Gong of China captured the spirit of optimism, coupled with a fierce determination to create a better society for all, that seems to be a driving force for many millennials around the world. “Our future depends on the young people because they are at the core of creativity, the force behind breakthrough innovation, advocates for a fairer society, and drivers of economic growth and societal improvement,” she says. Gen-Xers and baby boomers, please step aside.