Millennials creatively forge their own career path

Rachel Millman, pictured June 13, 2014, in Baltimore, is the owner and director of Reel Estate Media, a company that works with real estate agents in the area to record walk-through videos of houses for sale and video profiles for the agents themselves. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/MCT)

Last winter, Rachel Millman began searching for a home in Baltimore.

She combed through listings online, but the work of narrowing down her search based on static images became tedious. What if, instead, she could take a video tour through each house, and use a slightly more dynamic medium to decide whether to schedule an in-person tour?

When Millman closed on her new home this year, having already pitched her idea to a number of receptive real estate agents she had met along the way, she knew this was the right moment. She quit her full-time magazine job of the last two years and, at age 25, founded Reel Estate Media, a company that works with real estate agents in the area to record walk-through videos of houses for sale and video profiles for the agents themselves. As of now, she's the only employee.

"I've been thinking of starting my own company pretty much since I graduated from college," says Millman, who graduated in May 2011 after studying electronic media and film at Towson University. "I thought: 'I'm young. Now's the time,' and I just decided to do it, probably against the better judgment of a lot of people."

Nationwide trend


Millman's decision to forgo the stability of a full-time job with a guaranteed paycheck is one that mirrors a nationwide trend among the millennial generation, the cohort of roughly 73 million Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s who are loosely defined as being between the ages of 18 and 34 today. More millennials are creating their own jobs, either as a response to a continually crummy economy in which they can't find work, or because they would rather be their own bosses and run their own businesses.

A 2011 study by the nonprofit entrepreneurs' support organization Young Entrepreneur Council and Buzz Marketing Group put the percentage of self-employed millennials in the U.S. at 27 percent. Another 2011 study by the Affluence Collaborative, a market research consultancy, estimated that 40 percent started businesses or were planning to.

More self-employed

For 30-year-old Scott Messinger, such was the route he took to co-founding his education-technology startup Common Curriculum, a Web application for teachers to digitize their weekly lesson plans and share assignments and homework via email with parents and students. An elementary school teacher in Baltimore public schools for four years, Messinger began developing Common Curriculum in 2009. In his free time, he learned Ruby, JavaScript and several other computer programming languages he needed, and in June 2010 he left the teaching profession.

He still worked part time for the city's school system as a curriculum writer, but he quit to work full time on Common Curriculum once he launched the product in August 2012 with co-founder Robbie Earle, another former Baltimore public school teacher.

"I knew since I was a kid I wanted to work in a startup-like environment," says Messinger, who lives near Hollins Market. "For me it was really just that there was this problem, and I wanted to solve it. I always enjoyed creating stuff. I'm doing what I always wanted to do."

Lack of opportunities

Opinions vary as to why more millennials are going this route. Scanning through the unemployment numbers for young adults in the U.S. provides one clue. Among those between 18 and 29 who are either unemployed or have given up looking for work, the unemployment rate was at 15.4 percent in May, according to libertarian-leaning organization Generation Opportunity.


For those between ages 21 and 24 — early college graduates, in other words — the picture isn't much better. According to a May report on young workers from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, unemployment for that age range is at 8.5 percent; underemployment, defined as those who have given up looking for work or have work but don't receive the on-the-job hours they require, stands at 16.8 percent.

"This is really a problem of a broad-based lack of job opportunities," says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, a liberal group that studies and proposes policies to benefit low- and middle-income Americans. "There's going to be a larger swath of millennials who don't get a job regardless of what they do."

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