Steve Towns

I must admit I don't fully understand the Millennial Generation - that group of completely connected, always-online individuals born after 1982.

Sure I've seen MySpace, but creating and maintaining a MySpace page sounds more like work than fun. And don't even get me started on Twitter; who cares - other than me - what mundane activities I'm up to throughout the day?

But while pop culture celebrates the frivolous manifestations of Millennial online communities - Mentos and Diet Coke geysers, anyone? - author, historian and economist Neil Howe offers an encouraging take on how these citizens will impact society as they mature.

Howe spoke in October at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers' (NASCIO) Annual Meeting in Tucson, Ariz., and he drew parallels between the Millennials and what has been dubbed "the Greatest Generation," the group of Americans who came of age during World War II and created many of the government institutions and infrastructure we rely on today.

Like the generation that fought World War II, Millennials tend to be builders and team players, said Howe, who's written several books on generations in America and their impact on society. Unlike baby boomers, Millennials don't distrust large institutions, and are likelier to vote and participate in political processes than Gen-Xers.

This means good things for the nation. The Millennials, Howe says, are poised to pick up where the World War II generation left off. They'll be inclined to rebuild crumbling public infrastructure and embark on new projects designed to benefit society at large.

Hitting even closer to home, Howe says these individuals look favorably on public service. Their timing couldn't be better: A NASCIO report on state IT work forces found that, on average, nearly 30 percent of state government IT workers will reach retirement age within the next five years. As Millennials reach working age, it appears they may be quite interested in filling these public-sector jobs.

Much has been made of Millennial expectations for technology - they use it to connect and collaborate. And they want more balance between their work environment and their social life than workaholic baby boomers. Government agencies need to accommodate these desires within reason, while maintaining the security, privacy and efficiency that citizens expect.

Furthermore, governments must promote the existing benefits of public-sector work. That's a key conclusion of NASCIO's report. Public-sector IT positions already offer challenging work and a chance to contribute to the public good, and Millennials prize these qualities. If public officials can do better at getting the word out, they may find a very receptive audience among young adults.

Ultimately, according to Howe, Millennials are coming of age when they're needed most - both by government IT shops and society at large.

Let's hope he's right.