MTV’s New Series ‘Underemployed’: When Generation #Win Meets Economy #Fail

by Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

MTV’s new series “Underemployed” premieres tonight at 10 p.m.

Millennials are a hyper-charged generation that has been primed for success and raised to believe they can conquer the world with their special talents.  Growing up, they were coached and encouraged by “peer-rents” and teachers to take the right classes, participate in the right extracurriculars, and do the right internships – all with the promise that if they were responsible and worked hard, they would be rewarded with a fulfilling job and a happy life.

However, post-financial crisis, this typically optimistic and high-powered generation has crashed head-on into a very rude awakening — an economy where opportunities are limited and where they have to compete against equally supercharged and overqualified peers.  And for the ones who are fortunate enough to land a job, many are discovering that workplaces aren’t as receptive and nurturing as the schools and homes they left behind.

Time and again, we hear from Millennials that they feel duped – that the rules of the game changed while they weren’t looking.  Matt, 23, from Nashville tells us “It’s like you have to start fresh these days – the system is different. We started college, the economy tanked. We grew up with the idea: high school, college, get job, get married. I see guys with masters degrees working at sporting good stores.”

It’s not surprising then that nearly 7 in 10 Millennials in the workforce feel “underemployed,” meaning they aren’t in a job that truly leverages their capabilities.  An equal number (72%) say they’re afraid of not living up to their potential.

However, despite this rude awakening brought on by the economic crash, Millennials maintain their characteristic optimism in the face of adversity.  Millennials still believe that their dream job is out there – 6 in 10 Millennials say “I believe there is such a thing as a perfect job for me.”  But they might just have to work a bit harder to find it – or create it themselves, with 6 in 10 agreeing “if I can’t find a job I like, I will try and figure out a way to create my own job.” In MTV’s recent “Generation Innovation” study, we met with Millennial creators, entrepreneurs and makers all across the country who are forging their own paths in this economy, starting anything from food trucks to bike sharing services to party planning apps.   And their optimism shone through with their spirited motto “fail faster” – 1 in 2 Millennials (56%) agree their generation embraces failure as an essential part of success.   If it doesn’t work, pick up the pieces and start again.

In a way, graduating into a bad economy has been rather liberating for Millennials.  As a result of the crash, Millennials have realized that there are more important things than making money.  Rather than chasing the biggest paycheck, this generation is looking for fulfillment in their work as we recently discovered in MTV’s “No Collar Workers” study.

It’s this spirit of Millennial resilience that has inspired MTV’s newest series “Underemployed”.  “Underemployed” follows a group of friends who dream of “complete world domination” as they navigate a post-college world that is very different from the one they had imagined.  The show picks up one year after the group has graduated from college.  None of the characters are living the life they planned, but that doesn’t mean they are giving up.  As Sofia (played by Michelle Ang) explains in the first episode, “You grow up wanting a certain kind of life – a dream of a life.  But by the time you get there, that life is gone.  You have to make your own life, and you have to make it your way.”

With “Underemployed”, MTV pays tribute to a generation that continues to persevere — and will undoubtedly succeed in changing the working world for the better.  “Underemployed” premieres Tuesday October 16, 2012 at 10pm on MTV.

Matt Cohen is a Senior Analyst for Creative Development & Marketing Research at MTV. For more insights and ideas from MTV, check out the MTV Insights blog.

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