I recently had a talk with Frank Lloyd, associate dean of executive education at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. This school has worked with companies in the energy industry for several years helping them manage their talent and providing MBA and leadership programs for their star employees. Lloyd said that his school is trying to address the changing demographic within the industry as more “millennials,” those born between 1979 and 1994, enter the workforce in droves. Millennials view the world, and their jobs, differently than their baby boomer parents, and companies hoping to cultivate the bright minds in this group will need to adopt some new tactics. I must say I’m a bit concerned about the potential for these younger employees to realize the kind of “cultivation” they will need given the current business climate. I think back to when my mom first went to work. She started as a secretarial temp but quickly got a full-time job at a company that sells centrifugal pumps. Over the years her intelligence and abilities were recognized, and she ended up being an outside sales rep despite the fact that she did not have an engineering degree. But the company provided the training and continuing education she needed because they recognized her potential and were willing to invest in her career. Today I came across an article in “The Wall Street Journal” that said that, unlike past recessions where those 55 and older were most likely to be vulnerable to layoffs, today it’s younger workers who have the most to fear. “Employees in their 20s and 30s are finding themselves more at risk of a layoff, according to labor lawyers, as employers look to avoid age-discrimination lawsuits by adopting a ‘last one in, first one out’ policy,” the article states. “In some cases, young, childless professionals say they feel they’re being targeted in layoffs, while employees who have families to support are given special consideration.” Two of my friends have college-age daughters who were offered paid internships this summer, only to be told at the last minute that, while they were still welcome to work, they would be doing so without pay, as if they’re volunteering at a soup kitchen rather than going to work for a responsible corporation. Yes, they will gain valuable experience and learn priceless lessons. Unfortunately, one of those lessons is that promises will continue to be broken long after they’ve heard their last commencement speech and collected their final diploma. Is this going to get better? Not if “Time” Magazine is any indication. The cover of the May 25 issue says, ‘Throw away the briefcase; you’re not going to the office. You can kiss your benefits goodbye too. And your new boss won’t look much like your old one. There’s no longer a ladder, and you may never get to retire, but there’s a world of opportunity if you figure out a new path.” Yikes. Can SMU help? Lloyd used the analogy of peanut butter to describe how some companies handle tough times. “Creamy” peanut butter is a company that smoothes over all employees equally, regardless of their future potential. “Chunky” peanut butter leaves a few folks “uncreamed,” even if the impact to the bottom line is smaller in the short term. It’s these “nuts” that may be the future of the company. Given the present news, I’m not sure anyone will survive the food processor.