To The Power Of P: Population, Productivity and Prosperity

Change is an inevitable truth in the business world. With the introduction of personal computers in the early- to mid-1980s, the tempo of transformation has accelerated in every area of our lives and work.

Despite today’s vast technology and its power to revolutionize our lives, people must drive it. Technology alone cannot bring change; it’s an endless conversion propelled by the work of people. As each generation comes of age, people continue to put their stamp on the world around them. 

Since January 2016, PPAI has been polling members on a variety of industry-related topics. Beginning in 2018, questions were posed through PPAI’s online education platform that sought to better understand workplace demographics within the promotional products industry. Results revealed key insights, including:

  • A growing number of Millennial professionals
  • The industry’s shift towards non-industry experience
  • Above-average educational attainment levels

The research shows that, in general, most promotional products companies employ at least one Millennial (80 percent) and more than half of those employees are in leadership roles (52 percent). Supplier companies are more likely to have Millennial employees; 95 percent indicate having one or more on staff compared to 76 percent of distributor companies.

While 47 percent indicated they have six or more Millennials on staff, 83 percent of companies employ five or fewer in leadership roles (Figure 2). Overall, 13 percent of companies indicated that the owner(s) of their companies are under the age of 37. 


Generation Cohorts

As quoted by Pew Research Center, “generational cutoff points are not an exact science” and the birth year ranges often differ among published works from researchers, journalists and policymakers. The definition of the Millennial generation was formally introduced by the Association in the May 2017 issue of PPB magazine under the headline “Millennial Spotlight,” which broadly reflected anyone born between 1981 and 2000. For purposes of this article, the following portrays the newly revised definition of generations to include Generation Z, under which Millennial birth years end in 1995. Note that Generation Z, much like Millennials, is not a universally accepted category and may be described as Post-Millennials, iGeneration, Digital Natives, Gen Tech and Centennials, as well.


Millennials are more likely to own business service companies (25 percent), than distributor (14 percent) and supplier (six percent) companies in the promotional products industry. Results trend in company sizes as well, with many Millennial owners (31 percent) generating $50 million or more in promotional products sales compared to just nine percent of Millennial owners of companies doing less than $1 million in annual revenue.

Though diversity in the workplace is often synonymous with gender, race and generational differences among coworkers, a more recent tie-in has been to different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives within a team. Poll results reveal the overwhelming majority of industry professionals (94 percent) have worked in an industry outside promotional products. Supplier and distributor companies are most likely to employ professionals with non-industry experience (95 percent) as opposed to 80 percent of business service companies.

Higher education is also a hallmark among members of the Millennial generation. The number of employed Americans between ages 25 and 29 possessing at least a bachelor’s degree has reached new heights according to the Pew Research Center, which stated: “Millennials are on track to be the most educated generation to date.” The Center’s analysis of the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the primary source of labor force data, for the country's population found that the share of college-educated young adults in today’s labor force is higher than ever before.

And that’s not all—July poll results indicate promotional products professionals are more educated than the national average. In fact, one-third of the general labor force completed no more than high school compared to just five percent of those in the promotional products industry labor force. More than a quarter of industry professionals either attended college (17 percent) or earned an associate’s degree (10 percent), much in line with the BLS data; however, the share of promotional products professionals with bachelor’s and advanced degrees (includes master’s, professional and doctoral degrees) was 28 percent higher than the national average.

In a 2017 analysis, “Meet the U.S. Workforce of the Future,” global consulting firm Deloitte used 2015 CPS data to forecast that almost two-thirds of the labor force is likely to have some education beyond high school by 2025. Under the same rate-of-change model, industry forecasts calculate nearly three-fourths of promotional products professionals with a bachelor’s or advanced degree and nearly 96 percent of the industry labor force to have some college education (Figure 4).

Even these estimates could be conservative, as it assumes educational attainment to be frozen within a set period, whereas people often continue their education over time, even later in life. Further analysis by Deloitte suggests a growing trend of continuing education—a trend that extends to the promotional products industry.

Though 48 percent of companies in the promotional products industry, on average, offer tuition reimbursement, scholarships or other financial opportunities specifically for staff development, supplier companies are 1.6 times more likely (57 percent) to encourage professional development than distributor companies (46 percent). Larger companies are also more likely to provide financial support than companies with less than $10 million in promotional products sales.

The changing demographics across the country are causing people, processes and priorities to shift in our work environments and reflect growing diversity and complexity in the labor force. As the 21st-century labor market continues to evolve, businesses that capitalize and embrace the nation’s changing demographics will reap the economic benefits of a productive and prosperous labor force.

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Moumita Das is the research manager at PPAI.


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