Feature – Youthquake
The Rising Political Power of Millennials
By David Coletto, PhD
MILLENNIALS ARE ALL the rage today. You can’t turn on the TV, open a magazine, or browse a news website without someone writing about my generation. And it’s understandable given the impact we are having on pretty much everything.
Consider this comparison. In 2006, the top five most valued publicly traded companies in the world were ExxonMobil, GE, Microsoft, Citigroup, and British Petroleum. Today they are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. While technological change has affected everyone, regardless of their generation, the rapid rise of brands like Google, Amazon, and Facebook occurred in large measure due to the corresponding emergence of millennials as North America and Europe’s largest consumer group.
But beyond the disruption in the consumer market, a story less often told is the impact this generation is having on politics and public affairs in countries around the world, including Canada.
More millennials are now eligible to vote in Canada than baby boomers. Justin Trudeau is the oldest of the three major party leaders. And youth engagement in politics is on the rise. We are experiencing a youthquake right before our eyes.
Ask most people about youth political participation and they will say young people don’t vote. But in the 2015 Canadian federal election, youth voter turnout skyrocketed by 20 percentage points, and because the Liberals captured the largest share of these new voters, millennials helped turn what looked like a fragile Liberal minority government into a stable Liberal majority government. It’s no wonder that Prime Minister Trudeau appointed himself Minister of Youth following the election: young people were critical to his win.
The same story is repeating itself in other democracies around the world. In the UK, thanks to a slight increase in youth voter turnout along with the most lopsided generational vote in British history, Theresa May’s hopes for a substantial majority government were shattered by the millions of young Brits who voted for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, leaving the Conservative Prime Minister with an unstable minority.
In Italy, young voters swarmed the polls and made the country’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement the largest party in its parliament. And we can’t forget that American millennials were decisive in Barack Obama’s rise, critical to Bernie Sanders’ movement, and the defeat of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump.
Because of the size of the cohort – there are about 9.5 million of us in Canada, we have the power to shift markets, pick winners and losers, and disrupt the status quo. My advice to all organizations advocating for policy change with government decision makers at all levels is simple: don’t ignore the awakening of youth political engagement and the millions of millennials behind it. Embrace them, understand them, and find a way to align your issues with the concerns and broader values of this group.
Who are the Millennials?
Born between 1980 and 2000 and raised around the turn of the millennium, millennials or members of Generation Y are different from other generations for two primary reasons: how we were raised and the role of technology in our lives.
The starting point is our parents. Most millennials are the children of baby boomers. This simple fact explains so much of the way we think and behave. We were raised to believe we are special, and the world is ours for the taking. We grew up in a world of positive- reinforcement, helicopter parenting, and constant feedback.
Millennials are also digital natives. We grew up with technology and have made it a central part of our lives. To the 94% of millennials who own a smartphone, that device is our most trusted assistant. It’s our bank, our travel agent, our newspaper, our telephone, our music player, and our weather person. That device lets us watch the video content we crave, order food, and gets us from one place to the next.
And to the 85% of Canadian millennials who check Facebook at least once a day, social media is how we stay connected, find out what’s happening in the world, and increasingly the way we learn about and connect with brands. The combination of social media and mobile technology has also created a perfect-storm of connectivity that changes the way millennials consume and process media and news content; source credibility is being steadily overtaken and trumped by interesting content of a diverse variety and range.
We have moved from a world where people actively sought out news and information to a passive one, where the information we consume is delivered to pre-curated news feeds, isolated from people, perspectives, and ideas outside of our networks.
So, what does this mean for how you engage the public and design your advocacy strategies with government?
Here are a few tips:
- Recognize that millennials are a powerful force who are reshaping political life at all levels of government.
- Learn and understand what we care about and what priorities are shaping our thinking. The top issues for millennials in Canada are affordable housing, jobs, affordability of post-secondary education, and healthcare. We are insecure about our future, and a growing number feel that our generation won’t be as well off as the ones that came before us.
- Tell your story in an authentic and engaging way. To bring millennials along, you need to have a compelling story that is emotional, connects with our priorities, and calls us to action. Remember, we don’t just do something because it’s what we should do or because it’s always been done a certain way. We need to be asked.
Businesses and organizations that succeed over the next decades will be the ones who embraced change and best understood my generation. In the next few years, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company, Netflix viewership may dwarf all Canadian TV networks combined, and we will likely see autonomous cars on the road. What is far more certain is that millennials will dominate our politics for the next 30 years in the same way their parents, the boomers, did for the past 30.
Based on the 2016 Census:
There are 368,032 millennials in the Ottawa-Gatineau region representing 28% of the population.
This is slightly higher than the national average.
Compared to other major cities:
Metro Vancouver: 29%
Should I stay or should I go
A millennial’s view of Ottawa
By Alannah Bird
Us wacky, unpredictable millennials. What do we want and what can Ottawa do to keep us around?
The fact is, it’s easier than ever to travel and live away from your hometown, so it’s not enough anymore to be a city that offers good employment and a consistent supply of housing. If you’re trying to attract millennials, know that you’re competing with pretty much every city in the world. With the evolving definition of a workplace, and a growing ability to work remotely, I don’t think this reality is going anywhere, anytime soon.
I’m not sure millennials are all that different from past generations; we’re still chasing the ‘American Dream’ — it just looks a little different than the white-picket-fenced home, the fancy car and the big green barbeque that gets used on Saturdays. Instead, we’re deliberately chasing a life filled with experiences and purpose. This can mean different things to different millennials, but at the end of the day, very few of us are willing to sacrifice a good, balanced quality of life, for more conventional ways of measuring success.
I am currently working on a master’s program in real estate and infrastructure, which has opened my eyes to the impact millennials are having on cities. We are noticing staggering numbers of companies relocating their offices back into downtowns from the suburbs, as a way of attracting the next generation workforce.
Retaining employees is harder than ever, and all signs point to the fact that it is because again, millennials are not willing to sacrifice their quality of life; there are simply fewer people willing to enter into the daily grind. The challenge becomes more acute if we couple this trend with the fact that the workforce is aging and it is millennials who will be there to fill these roles.
So how does one attract and retain a new, high expectation, millennial employee? It has proven to be challenging. We also know that losing a senior employee can cost the equivalent of two years of their salary. Now let’s extrapolate that over an entire company, where a growing number of employees are millennials, and it’s not hard to see why employers are offering the moon to recruit and keep good talent.
Not only are companies moving downtown, they are also trying to make the workday as enjoyable and productive as possible. Millennials want to believe in what they’re doing, continue to learn, and they want to collaborate with coworkers they’d consider friends. If, every now and then, they can accomplish all of that on their laptops while working remotely out of a hostel in a surf town… all the better! This trend is translating into flexible work schedules and a rapid adoption of co-working spaces, where companies of all shapes and sizes can come together to innovate.
When looking for a home, millennials care more about quality than quantity. As house prices become more unaffordable in Ottawa, and everywhere, millennials want to spend less on housing so they can keep their lives flexible. Instead of taking a traditional house design and crunching it into a smaller space, developers need to plan and build homes that reflect a more space-conscious design concept.
I live in a 124-square foot tiny house that I love with all my heart. Every single inch of space was made functional in order to make the housework. There’s a couch with hidden storage space, a desk that folds up, and a martini drawer under the staircase – since it is all about prioritizing.
As landscapes change in how we all consume products and services in a city, we must look to renewed reasons for people to interact in retail and commercial spaces. Why go out when you can get whatever you want, food included, delivered to your door? It’s simple, we are seeking experiences and connection – a space should be a conversation starter.
Possibly the most important feature in a city these days is access to activities and adventure. I think every city has the ability to offer something unique, whether it’s access to the outdoors, a vibrant arts and culture scene, an exciting nightlife, lively sports games, or all of the above. Ottawa has all of these ingredients, and yet for many in the city these amenities, opportunities, and lifestyles are hard to access.
So what’s to be done to animate our City and to cultivate a desirable place to live for the next generation? We need to bring people together in livable, dense, urban spaces that provide for flexibility and liberate us from our commute times. Millennials don’t want to live in the same type of cities as previous generations, and urban planning needs to reflect that, both at City Hall and within the development community. The good news is that all of this is possible, and in fact it is more expensive (financially and environmentally) to build and maintain sprawling suburban neighborhoods that require labyrinths of roadways and that lack comprehensive transit or places for community to gather.
We need not be afraid to take risks and try things that make Ottawa an authentic and bold place to live. Millennials want to be part of something. They are not here to punch the clock. They want the ability to look back on life and say, “I did that right.”
Ottawa is a Millennial Hotspot
Steady job market with an above average income of $88,310
Boasts a thriving cultural scene
Ranks sixth for the highest percentage of Canadians with bachelor’s degree or above
Ottawa is one of the youngest cities in Canada, with nearly half its population under 35
Ranks 16th out of 85 cities for life satisfaction
Information courtesy of point2homes.com