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Research Identifies Career Resources That Millennials Need in Changing Economy

Doing Innovation, a research project at UT Austin, has launched a multimedia website that examines how millennials are using new technology, developing creative communities and finding innovative paths to respond to the changing economy.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Doing Innovation, a research project at The University of Texas at Austin that is supported by the MacArthur Foundation, has launched a multimedia website that examines how millennials are using new technology, developing creative communities and finding innovative paths to respond to the changing economy.

Doing Innovation seeks to inspire young people by providing a set of models who are successfully building careers in the creative economy while helping educators and city leaders understand what skills and resources young people need as they transition into the new world of work.

The Doing Innovation website provides multimedia content including interviews and profiles of successful and ambitious young entrepreneurs. It is based on the results of a two-year study led by Craig Watkins, a professor of Radio-Television-Film in the Moody College of Communication.

Watkins and a team of graduate students conducted over 100 formal and informal interviews and spent hours observing millennials’ new creative environments including meet-ups, workshops and hackathons. They interviewed researchers, demographers, entrepreneurs and policymakers and conducted a yearlong ethnography study in an Austin-area high school.

Their research resulted in four core findings: 

  1. Young people need physical spaces to collaborate and network and to exchange and test ideas.
  2. Young people need the capacity to cultivate social capital, including rich social connections that provide access to knowledge, expertise and other resources. Innovation is a social enterprise — not an isolated product of individual genius.
  3. Education remains a vital pathway to economic opportunity, but most schools are not built to prepare young people for today’s precarious economy. Young people are required to learn new things if they want to remain viable in today’s labor market.
  4. Young people face issues of equity and opportunity when searching for jobs. Although millennials are facing the toughest economy since the Great Depression, some are better prepared and connected than others to navigate the new world of work.

“Doing Innovation is about the young women and men who toil creatively and passionately in the vital edges of our economy,” Watkins said. “The end result: a unique collaboration with creatives, knowledgeable workers, artists, designers, social innovators and entrepreneurs who are building their own economy through sheer grit and ingenuity while facing unprecedented uncertainty.”

Watkins found that many of the skills needed to succeed in the new economy are not being taught in schools, and that more policies are needed to connect low-opportunity youths to mentors, knowledge, talent and financial resources.

“We’re fortunate that at UT Austin, there are already programs addressing new educational needs, like the Maker Space at the Cockrell School of Engineering and new degree programs in game development from the Moody College and the College of Fine Arts,” Watkins said. “But our research suggests there is room for improvement at all levels of the education system.”