Want to engage younger generations in government? Just ask them!

Younger generations want to be involved in local government. It's just that they'd like to be asked to participate. "I think young people are like most people. They really want to be asked. If they're asked to do something, most of the time peopl...

Andrew Bjur
An architect with Engan Associates of Willmar, Andrew Bjur’s local involvement with city government began about 13 years ago when he was interested in seeing improved usage of the parks and better connections in the trail system. A Generation Xer, Bjur is now chairing and volunteering on the Minnesota Green Steps Committee for Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Younger generations want to be involved in local government. It’s just that they’d like to be asked to participate.

“I think young people are like most people. They really want to be asked. If they’re asked to do something, most of the time people say yes. It’s that whole engagement on how to approach people,’’ said Andrew Bjur, 37.

“Being involved on city boards and community groups lets your voice help shape the future of the city,’’ he said. “You’ve got to be passionate for it. It’s got to be something you’re interested in.’’

Cities - like government at all levels - have their work cut out for them in successfully connecting with younger citizens like Bjur, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

As they continue to assume positions as active citizens, taxpayers, local elected officials, and city workers, the younger generations - those 44 and younger in 2009 - will present Minnesota cities with new opportunities and new challenges, according to the League.


While Generation X - born 1965-1976 - and the Millennial Generation - born 1977-1995 - share many of the basic values of their parents and grandparents, like every generation before them, they have also been shaped by their own set of experiences and have developed their own styles, attitudes and world views that can differ from those of their predecessors.

The League suggests cities not wait for young people to come to city hall to discuss city issues. Rather, get them engaged by bringing the discussions to the places they gather, such as office shops and ball games.

An architect with Engan Associates of Willmar, Bjur’s local involvement began about 13 years ago when he was interested in seeing improved usage of the parks and better connections in the trail system. He was asked to participate and one thing led to another. His service includes participation in the Vision 2020 effort, the Community Ed and Rec Advisory Board and the Planning Commission.

“Some of the contribution I was able to be a part of included the YMCA aquatics center addition grant, Robbins Island disc golf course development, and the comprehensive pedestrian and trail plan,’’ he said.

“Community groups are always looking for volunteers and leaders. We need to find what we are passionate about and try to pursue it. I found that the city staff are open to ideas from the public and are looking for community input. We are all living and working together to help form a common future,’’ Bjur said.

Currently, Bjur - a Generation Xer - is chairing and volunteering on the Minnesota Green Steps Committee for Willmar. He’s interested in low-cost energy improvements to city buildings and lighting; reusing existing buildings and retaining historic and cultural character of the city; parks and trails; and supporting the local foods movement.

Megan Sauer is a Millennial. She has worked for the city of Willmar for 10 years and currently serves as city planner and airport manager. She thinks there is some interest by persons of her generation in running for public office, but it’s hard because people are busy with other priorities.

“Our generation in general gets married a little later and we have our kids a little later. We might not be able to get involved as much as our previous generations have because our kids aren’t going to be out of the house till even later in our lives,’’ she said.


Sauer thinks her generation is a little more aware of what’s going on than maybe the other generations realize.

“I think we’re pretty involved in keeping up with current affairs and what’s going on with our government and how things are progressing,’’ she said. “A lot of people seem to read the paper that are my age, too. I think that used to maybe not be the case.’’

Mark Klema, 31, an engineer with Bolton and Menk of Willmar, is interested in participating in local government and is in his third year as chair of the Planning Commission.

Klema - also a Millennial - said his involvement began after he received notice for a public hearing in his neighborhood. He attended the public hearing more out of curiosity about the process, and was told the Planning Commission had an opening for a volunteer member. Klema ended up being appointed to the post.

“I really like it. Being involved in government is something that I’m interested in. I think it is really important to be involved,” he said. “I think that good government sometimes is like an offensive line in football: if it’s working really well you don’t know it’s there.

“I think that young people do value government and I think that we’re lucky to live in a city and a state and a country where it’s worked pretty darn well. Sometimes it seems like it isn’t there or that it’s not working right. But I think for the most part it’s a pretty powerful tool and there’s a lot of value in it,’’ he said.

Klema recommends interested citizens get involved sooner rather than later.

“I think for some people it is tempting to think they just got out of school or are busy with family. Certainly family is No. 1,’’ he said.


“You get involved, you start meeting people, learn how things work. Even if it’s serving on a small committee or volunteering for some organization, the sooner you get started, the more fun it will be because you get to learn the process and become more appreciative of the process and contribute.’’

Generation X, Millennials have broad commonalities

Like those who came before them, the younger generations (Generation X – born 1965-1976 and Millennials – born 1977-1995) are made up of a vast array of individuals, not all of whom think or act alike, and there are some important differences.

However, as they seek to respond to these generations, both as citizens and employees, cities will want to be aware of some of the broad general commonalities that have been documented, the League of Minnesota says.

The younger generations:

  • Believe they are responsible for their own economic successes and happiness.
  • Won’t leave their fate in the hands of organizations they aren’t sure they can trust.
  • Believe career success will come from building transferable skills.
  • Use technology as a way to get things done and to connect with others.
  • Look to make an immediate impact through the things they choose to become involved with.
  • Are impatient with long-term approaches to making change.
  • Value a “balanced’’ family life and personal fulfillment.

Source: League of Minnesota Cities Engaging Younger Generations

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