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David Barista is Editor-in-Chief of Building Design+Construction and, properties that combined reach more than 100,000 commercial building professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. David has covered the U.S. construction industry for more than a decade, previously serving as Editor-in-Chief of Professional Builder, Custom Builder, and He has won numerous editorial awards, including three Jesse H. Neal Awards and multiple honors from the Construction Writers Association and the American Society of Business Publication Editors.


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How the 'digital natives' will transform your Building Team

Photo: khunaspix via
Photo: khunaspix via
April 25, 2014

They’ve been called overconfident, entitled, self-absorbed. They generally distrust the government, are largely indifferent about religion, and lean liberal with their social views. They are less trusting of others and less patriotic than their elders. And they have a much different view of the American Dream than others. 

They are the Millennials, 84 million strong, and they are your future employees, customers, and Building Team partners. 

The newest generation to enter the workforce is like no other that has come before it. This cohort is the first to grow up with the Internet, mobile technologies, and an “always connected” lifestyle.

They are relatively unattached to organized political or religious groups and are in no rush to get married or start a family. Their sense of community and belonging are linked principally to social media, mobile communications, and other forms of online networking, like social gaming. They are the “digital natives.” 

This group is entering adulthood with historically high debt levels and a still bleak jobs market—37% of 18-29 year olds are unemployed or out of the workforce. Yet the Millennials remain quite optimistic about their future, more so than the Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation, according to a new Pew Research Center study of 1,821 adults, including 617 Millennials. When asked about America’s future, about half (49%) of Millennials said the country’s best years are ahead, compared to 42% for Gen Xers, 44% for Boomers, and 39% for Silents. 

Generational expert Preston Swincher will host a three-hour workshop on “Connecting to Digital Natives: Leading Through Generations” at BD+C’s 4th annual Under40 Leadership Summit, September 17-19, in New York City. More on the U40 Summit. 

“If you want to motivate the digital natives more effectively in the workplace, you need to understand what they want out of life, what makes them tick,” says generational expert Preston Swincher (, who consults with businesses on how to better connect with Millennials. He pinpoints some distinguishing traits of the digital natives:

Time is more valuable than money. Millennials, compared with those of previous generations, are waiting longer (five to six years longer, on average) to get married and start a family. That leaves more time to focus on wants and desires (travel, career growth, social impact), rather than needs (buy a house, make more money, etc.). With fewer pressing needs and responsibilities, money plays a lesser role in their lives compared to previous generations at the same age.

“I encourage employers to use time incentives instead of financial incentives,” says Swincher. Flexible schedules, telecommuting, and extended vacation time will likely be more attractive to Millennials than, let’s say, a bonus program. 

They’re entrepreneurs at heart. They’ve grown up in the age of start-ups. They’ve watched teenagers launch and grow companies into billion-dollar enterprises. They’ve seen young entrepreneurs—think PayPal, Square, Groupon, Bitcoin—successfully redefine long-established business models. The American entrepreneurial spirit is burning strong in this group. They crave innovation, and they are much more open to change than their elders.

They covet information and new stimuli. Given their tech-driven upbringing and “share everything” mindset, Millennials have a much quicker response time when it comes to communication and feedback.


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