Millennials: Who are they?

by Mary Lou Floyd, CCLS, Former ABL Client Services Director/Paralegal/Office Administrator

How many times have you heard the term “Millennials” lately? If you are reading HR
materials, business magazines, or listening to the news, the term is likely to be found

Who are these Millennials? According to the Washington Post, Millennials are young
people between the ages of 18 and 33. The Huffington Post identifies Millennials as
people born after 1980.

Here are terms used for other generations: Baby Boomers are people born between
1946 and 1964. Generation X are people born between 1965 and 1980. (Huffington

What makes the generations so different and distinct? What am I? I can provide some
answers from my own experience. First, I’m a Baby Boomer. The primary difference is
that as a Baby Boomer, I didn’t utilize or experience the technology that a Millennial has
at his or her disposal. Computers had been invented but were extremely expensive and
not everyone could afford one. The main server usually took up an entire room or a
large portion of an office. Cell phones were a futuristic concept – the first analog phone
was commercially introduced in the early 1980s. The Internet was toted as being from
the devil (yes, you can laugh at this!).

My first experience with computers was at a refractory plant and laboratory (a brick
plant) in Pittsburg, California. I was the certified Quality Control Technician for the
laboratory. The computers were a Wang system and DOS-based. The paper for the
many printers (depending on the size of the paper) was hooked onto pegs, was
perforated, and you had to tear off the edges after you printed your report. There were
days that I couldn’t believe how much I was learning, my brain felt like it would implode,
I was scared I’d mess the entire system up, but I also saw how scared people were to
enter my domain where all the computers were housed and where I ran all the
laboratory reports. I felt I had a tremendous responsibility and an important role in how
the laboratory functioned. I was also able to design and help implement computer
programs and reports to improve the production of refractory products.
I had several people who motivated me to learn the new technology. I was a single
mother at the time and the primary support for my daughter. As I learned all about the
computers, how to run them, how to change the programming, how to fix the printers,
etc., so did my job security and my pay. My mentor, Roger R. Riley (R 3 as he was
known at the refractory), had a lot of faith in my ability. He always encouraged me and
told me I could do it. The other influential person was my father. He didn’t finish grade
school, English was his second language, and yet he operated and ran computerized
equipment at what is now U.S. Posco (the steel mill in Pittsburg, California). If he could
do it, certainly I could!

The refractory business was a dying industry. The lab in Pittsburg was going to close. I
was offered an important position at the laboratory in Ione, California. But that just
wasn’t for me. My roots were here in the Bay Area.

R 3 sent me to one of his friends who owned a staffing agency. He told me she would
find something that would help me with my future and to provide for my daughter. The
first assignment I was sent to was to a law office in Walnut Creek. I walked in the door
and there was chaos! The new computers had just arrived, and no one knew how to use
them. I approached the counter, and someone asked me what I wanted. I said I was
there for an interview for the legal secretary position. A woman turned around and told
me that if I could show them how to use the new computers, I was hired. I went behind
the counter, flipped the switch on the side, entered a few key strokes, and the
computers were up and running. That woman turned out to be the partner of the firm. I
worked for her for several years. I trained the staff and together we adapted quickly to
the new technology.

Not all law firms were lucrative enough to afford computers. The next firm I worked at as
a legal secretary (paralegals were not yet “invented”), typed legal documents on an IBM
Selectric typewriter or something comparable. Copies were made by using carbon
paper. If I had to make 3-4 copies of a legal document, I had at least 6 pages of paper
and carbon paper in the typewriter, and I moved the lever to the hardest striking
strength to get the clearest image I could on that last page. If I made a mistake, there
were time-consuming remedies to make the corrections, none of which I want to dredge
up at this moment.

Eventually, the firm bought Wang systems. Once again, I was in my element. At this
firm, a couple of the attorneys had car phones. They were these large contraptions that
the attorney kept in the glove box (if it fit), in the center console (if it fit), or on the front
seat. We only called the attorney on this phone if it was urgent and the attorney only
used this phone if it was urgent.

Here are some items Millennials didn’t experience: 5 ¼” floppy disks, transcription
machines (using cassette tapes), 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, fax machines that used
special thermal paper, etc.

On the flip side, Millennials have a myriad of communication tools at their fingertips: cell
phones, texting, instant messaging, video chats, web cams, and social media sites.
Millennials are tech savvy, able to learn new software and adapt to new technology

Recently, I discovered how tech savvy I’ve become. I attended a legal educational
conference through LSI for legal professionals. This is a non-profit
organization dedicated to educating California’s legal professionals. I am currently the
Criminal/Family Law section leader. I surprised myself, and others in my group, by
presenting an innovative way to use webinar software and other technology to market the legal specialization sections, specifically to target Millennials and to provide a
marketing tool for local associations. Earlier last year, I would not have had the
knowledge or experience to be of much assistance or value to the legal specialization
sections. Galia Aharoni had faith in me to learn the new technology and now I have the
knowledge and experience to be of value in reaching the Millennials to keep LSI
growing and thriving into the future.

I am fortunate to be working in a law firm started by a Millennial. Looking back, the
primary difference in working for a Millennial owned firm versus a Baby Boomer owned
firm is that the Millennial is more open to utilizing new technology and keeps abreast of
what is new and useful for the firm. It is different working for a Millennial because I feel I
have limitations to use and learn new technology – or rather fears. Working for Baby
Boomers, they were looking to me to see where technology would take the firm, but
resistant to change too much. Baby Boomer-owned firms are usually resistant to using
social media, and their websites may not exist or may be very limited as to the
information on the site. A Millennial-owned firm is already using new technology and
social media to reach out to clients.

There is another aspect with regard to Millennials and the workplace– how can a
Millennial be expected to enter the work force and become part of a team that is
comprised of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers? Integrating Millennials into the work
place is like learning new technology. Providing Millennials with training, a mentor, and
a purpose are some tools that can help. But also listening to Millennials and the ideas
for future technology or how to use social media or improve a website to attract other
generations can bring positive change to the workplace.

Technology has enabled workers to log in from anywhere and work either from home, or
other remote locations. Millennials have adapted to this concept quicker than Baby
Boomers and some Generation Xers. Being able to work from home or remotely
provides common goals for all generations striving to have a good work/life balance and
flexible hours.

As everyone adapts, learns new technology, and embraces the Millennials, we will
increase opportunities for professional development, improve quality of services, and
balance the needs of multiple generations in the workplace. Cheers to the future!