Everyone seems to have an opinion on millennials. Broadly defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s who will reach adulthood in the 21st century, millennials have become everyone’s favourite coffee shop topic.
Malaysian millennials have been on the receiving end of endless stereotypes. Labels like entitled, unrealistic, and unable to resist instant gratification are countered by positive traits such as purpose-driven, , socially and environmentally conscious, innovative and tech-savvy.
Amidst all the noise, what are Malaysian millennials really like?
One key development is how the business world is being shaken up by millennials’ start-up culture, a natural home for this generation of self-starters with both the confidence and creativity to formulate disruptive business models.
Take Zikry Kholil, the co-founder of Incitement, a platform focused on social impact projects. He founded the organization nearly 7 years ago as a social movement, and it has blossomed into a worldwide enterprise that transforms the way corporations execute their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). With chapters in 46 countries to date, Incitement works with many well-known brands such as Nestle, L’Oréal, Maybank and Aeon.
The values of start-up culture which combines creativity with greater efficiencies while spending less money may be a result of the unique challenges that millennials experience compared to previous generations. Facing a world of low wages, rising cost of living, diminishing employment opportunities for graduates and increasing education costs, most millennials have had to be more flexible and inventive to find their way around adult life, and this has included getting more entrepreneurial.
This trend has been noted by industry experts. "Millennial entrepreneurs are - on many occasions - looking to enter existing industries, which are held together by long-established business models and usually with a handful of seemingly immovable key players at the top," says Simon O'Kelly, founder of the Unsigned Music Awards. "The job of a millennial entrepreneur is to disrupt this comfort zone and instil a new trust into an unsuspecting audience fairly rapidly."
However, it is not always easy for millennials to find their way.
Difficulties finding employment is a phenomenon for millennials across the globe. In Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM)has noted that the youth unemployment rate is three times higher than the national average.
On top of that, the rising cost of living has become a serious issue. In March, BNM urged employers to go beyond the minimum wage and instead pay the “living wage”, defined in their 2017 annual report as the minimum income required for a household to participate in society. For an individual, this amounts to RM2,700 a month.
Even though, globally, millennials are coming of age in one of the most difficult economic climates in the past 100 years, this generation has remained nimble and hardy, and socially conscious.
A 2015 study by Nielsen showed that almost three-out-of-four millennials are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that commit to positive social and environmental impacts. Millennials are more likely to align their decisions with their values, and this affects their consumer choices as well as career aspirations.
Malaysian millennials, the most educated generation the nation has ever seen, are now entering the workforce in droves. Notwithstanding the negative stereotypes and economic challenges, this new guard looks set to drive positive change, not least in the form of exciting reimaginations for the economy and how we all can live our lives more ethically.