Mc2 Jason Behnke  /  U.S. Navy
The U.S. Armed Forces are the biggest employers of Gen Y.
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updated 1/22/2012 11:06:11 AM ET 2012-01-22T16:06:11

A new study by Millennial Branding reveals how and where Generation Y is working today, and may shed light on the future of work.

Data and analytics company Identified.com analyzed the Facebook profiles of 4 million Gen-Y users, aged 18 to 29, in November 2011. Of those reviewed, most (90 percent) lived in the U.S. and listed at least one college (80 percent).

However, just a third (36 percent) listed a job entry on their profiles, possibly because they view their education as a life-long identifier and their job as more temporary. “Gen-Y workers are job-hoppers,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, a Boston-based personal branding agency, and author of "Me 2.0." “They spend an average of two years at their first jobs, and the average American will have nine jobs between the ages of 18 and 32.”

Slideshow: Most common jobs for Gen Y workers

By 2025, Gen Y is expected to comprise 75 percent of the total workforce, yet currently just 7 percent work for America’s largest companies, according to the study. Interestingly, the biggest recruiter of Gen Y is the U.S. Armed Forces, which employs 3.2 percent in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. In fact, the breakdown of Gen Y’s top 10 employers looks like this:

  1. Armed Forces
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Starbucks
  4. Target
  5. Best Buy
  6. McDonald’s
  7. Abercrombie & Fitch
  8. YMCA
  9. CVS Caremark
  10. UPS

A quick glance shows that most are major retailers. Large companies more closely associated with professional positions — tech firms like IBM and Microsoft and accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young — are featured much lower on the list. Comparatively, the most common positions held by Gen Yers include server, manager, intern, sales associate, owner, cashier, teacher, supervisor, assistant and sales representative.

Jobs expert and executive recruiter Skip Freeman says the incredible unemployment rates experienced by 16- to 24-year-olds “means that the jobs they will be able to get are the ones that don’t require education or experience.” Furthermore, he says companies are now looking for candidates with “current, relevant experience” that don’t require an investment in training and development. In a competitive market that demands specific skills, that’s bad news for the youth population. “Only as the job market improves will we see the opportunities for the Gen-Y folks get better.”

At the same time, Gen Yers who can’t find stable employment or no longer trust traditional work structures are starting their own businesses. “Owner” was the fifth most popular job title among Millennials. “I think we’re looking at the end of the 9 to 5,” says Schawbel. “Gen Yers would rather work for smaller companies, and they want flexibility and to do work that has an impact.” It may also help explain the high incidence of retail employers, he adds, as Gen-Y workers would be more likely to take part-time jobs as they juggle school or small businesses.

Corporations would be wise to take notice of the trend. “There is a disconnect between Gen Y and their employers,” Schawbel says. Current management views Millennials’ job-hopping as disloyal, while Millennials crave a more entrepreneurial work style enabled by new technologies, he notes. To avoid a potential clash, he advises employers to offer their Gen-Y workers more freedom over their time, activities and budgets.

For their part, the young workers may want to think twice about their Facebook identities. According to the study, Gen Yers have an average of 16 coworkers as Facebook friends but are using the social network primarily for personal rather than professional reasons. Schawbel warns that an unfiltered Facebook feed could come back to haunt them in the workplace, possibly leading to termination.

More from Forbes.com

© 2012 Forbes.com

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