Until recently, I did not really know or care what the so-called Millennial Generation did or did not do. I figured they’d figure it all out on their own — eventually. After all, we are talking about a generation that was born before the year 2000, and now they are inching up in age. Every year puts some experience in the bag for them. Lately, however, I’ve been worried about them. I once worked for a Canadian editor who warned me about not mixing up “years of experience” with the same year of experience that is just being repeated. generations_406x250Living a sort of Ground Hog Day existence sounded like fun in the movies, but it if you’ve been living what we use to call a “holding pattern,” it cannot be fun and in the long run it must be depressing no matter how tricked out that parental basement is that you’ve been living in. Certainly, not all millennials are idle. I have nieces and nephews that are among them, who’ve managed to get good careers going. But they all know friends who haven’t. And listening in on their conversations recently set me thinking and doing some comparing and contrasting. What were the realities, then and now? Those of us who graduated from colleges in the 1970s were confronted with two inescapable facts. The first, which seemed most important at the time, was our unwilling entry in the nation’s lottery for an all expense paid trip to Southeast Asia. Many went to Vietnam and did not come back. Many of those who did return went on to be among our generation’s best leaders. The second was the insidious impact of inflation. From 1972 to 1980, the consumer price index doubled. In three of those eight years, annual inflation topped 12 percent. It taught us to spend those first checks we earned out of college right away because the money was going to be worth less the longer we waited. It meant it was hard to get traction. It turned us into a generation of spenders, not savers. With the all volunteer military, millennials at this point do not have to worry how they might look in jungle green or “desert camo,” but even with that little difference between our time and theirs, I would not want to be going through what too many of them are experiencing. College debt and no decent job prospects in an economy that seems barely alive. We have not seen so much as 3 percent GNP growth since I don’t know when. Only Howard Shultz makes out from this. Well-educated baristas are wonderful for him, but their talents are being wasted by this economy. Even with the Vietnam lottery detail, I would take what we had over repeating the same year of idleness or under-employment that so many of the millennials have had to deal with. We did a lot in those years when inflation was eating us alive. We always had the sense were moving forward. At this point, you are thinking “what does this have to do with food safety?” Actually it’s simple. What I am going to simply call the “food sector” of the economy takes 12 percent of household spending, accounts for 10 percent of U.S. employment, and 12 percent of U.S. manufacturing jobs. The “food sector” is now under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reforms ever for the industry. We know compliance comes with a cost. Somewhere along the way the Congressional Budget Office came up with $500 million as the cost of preventing future foodborne poisoning, but it will probably cost more. The “food sector” at the moment is filling up every webinar, continuing education class, community college and university summer program dealing with FSMA compliance. Nothing against teaching old dogs new tricks, but why not also use this moment to hire some new folks too. Turing the economic burden of FSMA into opportunities would be a win-win because of what I think the millennials can bring to the table. The old dogs are eventually going to retire. Why not bring people in now so they can be “present at creation?” One thing for certain, if new people are hired for food safety, they won’t be the ones resisting change. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)