The 10 Best Companies for Generation Y Workers

Young workers face high unemployment, but a few companies are oases of high job satisfaction (and pay)

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Some of the nation's businesses offer wonderful opportunities for America's young workers—but in a rough labor market, getting a job at those companies could be a monumental task.

A new survey shows that tech companies and defense contractors are among the best places for Generation Y workers. The report comes from compensation data company PayScale and consulting company Millennial Branding, who surveyed a sample of 500,000 workers born between 1982 and 1993 about their jobs.

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Researchers ranked Fortune 500 companies by a variety of factors, including Gen Y workers' job satisfaction, median pay, and representation at those firms. Below are the 10 top companies for Gen Y workers, according to the report:

Rank Employer Chief Industry
1 Qualcomm, Inc. Telecommunications Equipment
2 Google, Inc. Internet Services
3 Medtronic, Inc. Medical Devices
4 Intel Corp. Semiconductors
5 Microsoft Corp. Software, Internet Services
6 Abbott Laboratories Pharmaceuticals
7 Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) Aerospace and Defense
8 Lockheed Martin Corp. Aerospace and Defense
9 Rockwell Collins, Inc. Aerospace, Defense
10 Cameron International Oil Field Equipment

Life looks sweet for workers at these companies. At these firms, median pay for a Gen Y worker is between $55,800 (at SAIC) and $92,800 (at Microsoft), compared to pay for a cashier ($17,700)—the lowest-paying job that Gen Y workers commonly hold, according to the survey. At the top firms, 58 percent or more of these workers believe their jobs are meaningful—a figure that climbs as high as 87 percent at Medtronic. More than three-quarters of Gen Y workers at these firms say they have a flexible schedule. They're still stressed, though: the least-stressed workers in the top 10 are at Abbott, where 21 percent of Gen Y workers claim their job is "low-stress" or "relaxing." That figure dips almost as low as 1 in 10 at Qualcomm and Intel.

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Getting into those firms, however, could be a pipe dream for the millions of unemployed and underemployed Generation Y workers.

"Because of the economy, a lot have to settle for nonprofessional jobs—retail jobs, mainly," says Dan Schawbel, the founder of Millennial Branding. "They do work that they don't like in order to make money on things that they have to fund, like student loans and for other projects, or to buy them time to find a better opportunity."

Compared to the rest of the workforce, Generation Y is disproportionately represented in a few low-paying occupations. These young workers are more than five times as likely as other workers to be merchandise displayers—the people who set up the mannequins in the Urban Outfitters window or arrange the furniture at Crate and Barrel, for example. They also are more than four times as likely than other workers to be employed in selling clothes or cell phones. The median pay for all of these top three positions is under $30,000.

And that's for the ones who are employed. The unemployment rate for young Americans is remarkably high. As of July, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate for people 20 to 24 years old was 13.5 percent. For workers aged 25 to 29, the rate (available only on an unadjusted basis) was 9.3 percent, a full percentage point above the national rate.

Still, even if they could get a job at one of the nation's mammoth companies, it might not be the first choice for many young workers.

"This generation wants to either start a business, work for a startup, or work for a company that embraces entrepreneurialism," says Schawbel. According to the survey, these workers were 1.8 times more likely than other workers to major in "entrepreneurial studies."

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This start-up spirit is an attitude unique to Generation Y, he says, in part due to the flagging economy. He points to the numerous nonprofits started by young entrepreneurs. While they may have been eager to carve out unique and meaningful careers, they also have learned that college diplomas and internships don't translate into job security the way they once did.

"You can't rely on anything or anyone. You have to be accountable for your own career," says Schawbel.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.