As universities hold spring convocation ceremonies and new graduates enter the workforce, a University of Guelph professor is calling on students, parents and employers to revise their plans and expectations for graduates’ employment prospects.

Prof. Sean Lyons, Department of Management, was lead author of a study recently published in the book Generational Diversity at Work. The study, “Launching a Career: Inter-Generational Differences in the Early Career Stage,” was named as the best paper in the human resources division at the 2013 meeting of the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada.

The study investigated the early careers of three generations of workers and found that millennials (those born after 1980) crave advancement and variety and are willing to move on if their needs go unmet. But those high early career expectations could lead to dissatisfaction, feelings of failure, and even depression and anxiety, said Lyons.

The goal of being better off than one’s parents — common from the 1960s to the 1980s — is less likely to be met today, he said. Baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1964) who grew up in a time of prosperity may see their children struggle early in their careers and take longer to launch into adulthood with careers, houses, marriages and families.

“Today, jobs are increasingly scarce, education is a necessity, and job security is a thing of the past,” said Lyons.

“People need to know success in the current economy must be framed within present reality. A degree is no longer a ticket to great opportunities: it’s the price of admission into the labour market.”

Lyons said students need to start planning for careers as soon as they enter university.

“So many students are already behind the curve. When students only start thinking about their future in third or fourth year or say they don’t know what they want to do after university, I feel they’ve wasted opportunities to figure out what they’re good at, what they want out of their careers and what options are most likely to get them there,” he said.

“A lot of grads apply to law school, teachers’ college or other programs because they don’t know what to do. In many cases, they’re just delaying decision-making. Self-development, self-awareness and clarity with career goals is critical.”

He said co-op programs and volunteering provide valuable experience for students to acquire competency in a range of areas and build a portfolio to show employers.

Lyons said employers can also learn from the study. Some employers struggle to accommodate diversity, and younger workers tend to “job hop” more frequently.

“Companies that are flexible and adaptable to diverse values and needs are best positioned to accommodate generational differences as well. There is simply no one-size-fits-all HR approach that will work in today’s workplace. HR systems that are not flexible and customizable will be less effective at meeting their objectives as diversity increases,” Lyons said.

He hopes to do more research into career prospects for current graduates.

“We want to know the exact challenges they face and how they deal with them successfully. We need to help young people make sense of careers and what they can do to improve their chances of success. That knowledge will help educators, policy-makers and employers understand what today’s youth is up against, and hopefully inspire some solutions to help them transition into their careers.”