“Young people are just smarter”
This has become a famous quote from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The Harvard dropout made the comment in 2007, at the age of 22. His other observations on age include the suggestion that companies should think twice about hiring anyone over 30 years old, yet at 33 Zuckerberg still holds one of the most influential jobs in Silicon Valley and, some would say, the world. He is well below the overall median age of American workers, which is 42.3.
But the Facebook CEO, likely an outlier in most things, is, just like Silicon Valley, far from average. In contrast to an American median length of 4.2 years in a job, the majority of employees at the tech enclave’s biggest firms tend not to stay with with any one company for longer than two years.
Among millennials – those born between 1982 and 1996 – some experts have put this preference for job-hopping down to a generational shift which has seen the idea of lifelong employment with one company lose ground to priorities like job satisfaction.
In Silicon Valley, where the war for talent is constant and switching jobs is relatively easy thanks to the high concentration of firms, that trend is surely exacerbated.
Yet outside the tech enclave the picture is somewhat different. A study published by consultancy ManpowerGroup, which surveyed millennials in 25 countries, found that for 87% of respondents job security was more important than anything else when it comes to their working lives.
According to the report, “with career ultramarathons ahead, millennials are focused on developing the skills to ensure their employment security and build a ‘career for me.’”
Meanwhile, according to certain business philosophies, high turnover like that seen in Silicon Valley is actually a positive thing for both employers and employees and should be embraced.
“In many ways, turnover can be good for everyone since the exodus is fluid,” says workplace consultant Lindsey Pollak. “Employees may be leaving you, but others are flowing in, and bringing along fresh ideas, new perspectives and a renewed enthusiasm.”
The flipside of a focus on youth and the high turnover which comes with it, however, are the accusations of ageism which critics of Silicon Valley often level. The problem, they say, starts with the culture of founder-entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who back them: everyone is looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg.
“Suddenly the mind-set became that if you’re a young kid who’s arrogant and disrespectful and doesn’t have the right social skills, that’s the mark of a good entrepreneur,” Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering at Silicon Valley, told MarketWatch last year.
Supporters of hiring young employees argue that youth are a natural fit to the Silicon Valley ethos: they are natively tech savvy and have new ideas, one of which could lead to the next multi-million dollar IPO.
One exception to the general rule is Oracle, where the median age of employees is just shy of 40. It is perhaps no coincidence that the company, which began operations in 1977, appears to hold greater store by age and experience than rivals founded in the last decade.