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Class helps employers learn to understand millennials, who are about to take over the workforce

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DENVER -- Millennials are the largest generation in America. And soon, they'll become the majority in our workplaces too. But sometimes, millennials are characterized as in constant need of a trophy or spoiled by hovering parents.

It’s led to an effort in Colorado to better understand, this misunderstood generation.

Millennials are generally ages 13 to 34. And in four to five years, will be the predominant demographic in the workplace.

This, as baby boomers exit the workforce in droves, creating shortages of talent. That’s where the Mountain States Employers Council is stepping in--to help businesses create environments to attract and retain this growing group.

In a classroom in Denver is a study of generations called Generations: Working Together. The class is designed to help the different generations communicate with each other better.

"This is the first time in history, in the history of America, we have four generations working together," says Julie Auger, consultant with MSEC.

There’s the silent generation.

Baby boomers with 74 million of them going to retire soon.

Gen X’ers with a population that's not that big, about 16 percent of the workforce.

And finally, millennials. They are the focus for many employers.

“We're very unhappy writing on the board here. We'd like to have iPads," jokes one of the class attendees about millennials' tech-savviness and perceived spoiled attitudes.

"A lot of people think we are impatient. We want everything now. We are very entitled," Jeff Foster said. He's one of the only millennials attending the class.

MSEC says they'll be a critical economic engine for decades with the retirement of baby boomers in mass numbers and not enough Gen X'ers.

"We have millions of millennials, about 10 million more entering in the next  four to five years. So they'll become more than 50 percent of our workforce in a very quick period of time," says Auger.

Millennials will dominate--and it will take some getting used to.

"They do things quite differently than other generations. They don't look at four walls and a desk. And they don't look at 9 to 5. Their vision is more of a work-life blend," says Auger.

And MSEC says employers should try to accommodate their needs to include feedback, individual attention, praise and guidance.

It's a lesson hard to comprehend for those working with millennials.

"It's sort of like herding cats. Like you're telling people the same thing over and over. You're giving a lot of instruction. I feel like I am a parent a lot of the time," says class attendee Nancy Sullivan, who is a Gen X’er.

And employment lawyer Whitney Traylor says adapting to millennials goes against a traditional work ethic of working your way up.

"There's sometimes with millennials the expectation they've shown up, they're qualified, they have this high self-esteem and they should be at the top from the very beginning," he says.

"I’ve heard entitled thrown about quite a bit," illennial Lizzie Burque, 26, said.

She works at a business populated with millennials called Galvanize in Denver.

She and other millennials challenge the negative perceptions.

They say they work as hard as anybody--but also value time away from work and making a difference in the world.

"Having time to pursue other passions has been really important," Burque said.

And they know the clash of older and younger generations will always exist.

"There's going to be a new generation. We might be sitting here where we're criticizing them," James Conti, 25, said.

The next generation is expected to enter the workforce within the next three to eight years.

They are predicted to mimic many of the traits of the silent generation (born: 1923-1946) with conservative values of thrift and saving—that will be influenced by watching their parents make choices between wants and needs.

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