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Harnessing the Millennial Workforce

By Bridget McCrea

College graduation is right around the corner. In the May-June timeframe a crop of the Millennial generation’s youngest members will enter the workforce, eager to make their marks and get hands-on with real careers. If your distributorship isn’t already thinking about how to attract, recruit, and retain the nation’s youngest generation, now is the time to learn a little more about these candidates and what they can bring to the table.

Who are the Millennials?
Also referred to as “Gen Y,” the Millennial generation comprises Americans who were born after 1980 – with the youngest of them now 19 years old. According to Pew Research Center, they are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. And while it’s no secret that their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, Millennials are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.

Of particular importance to employers is the fact that Millennials are history’s first “always connected” generation. Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multitasking handheld gadgets almost like a body part – for better and worse. According to Pew, more than eight-in-10 Millennials say they sleep with a cell phone glowing by the bed, poised to “disgorge texts, phone calls, emails, songs, news, videos, games, and wake-up jingles.”

Millennials are on course to become the most educated generation in American history, a trend driven largely by the demands of a modern knowledge-based economy, but most likely accelerated in recent years by the millions of 20-somethings enrolling in graduate schools, colleges, or community colleges in part because they can’t find a job, Pew reports. Among 18 to 24 year olds a record share – 39.6 percent – was enrolled in college as of 2008, according to census data.

Steve Gavatorta, a Tampa-based consultant, trainer, coach, and Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA), says the fact that Millennials are more tech-savvy, family-centric, and team-oriented makes the under-34 crowd especially attractive for distributors and manufacturers looking to infuse new energy into their teams. Gavatorta says Millennials are attracted to collaborative work environments, for example, where open-door policies and friendly relationships with managers prevail.

“Millennials like regular communication and feedback; they want to know what they’re doing right and wrong,” says Gavatorta. Contrast that, for example, with the 78-million-strong Baby Boomer generation that prides itself in functioning without much feedback and/or interference. “Despite all of the talk about how tech-savvy the Millennials are, they don’t want to sit in front of computers all day,” Gavatorta points out. “They want to collaborate with teams and managers and feel like they are really part of something.”

Many Millennials also have short attention spans and tend to get bored easily – a challenge that Gavatorta says can be overcome via cross-functional job training. An inside salesperson at a distributorship, for example, can also learn how to handle outside sales, counter sales, or even warehouse/storeroom management. “Work to entrench them in your business instead of just training them for a single task,” says Gavatorta. “This is a generation that loves new challenges, so be sure to provide them with those opportunities.”

Millennials Wanted
When looking for Millennials to round out your company’s workforce, Marian Thier, founder and partner at Listening Impact in Boulder, says “old school activities with a technology twist,” tend to be most effective. “Go where they are and communicate how they communicate,” says Their, who sees schools, peers, interest groups, networking meetings, and college internships as some of the best ways for companies to connect with potential Millennial employees. Tapping into social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can also help companies make those all-important initial introductions with younger recruits.

When looking for those recruits, Thier cautions distributors not to fall into the generational stereotyping trap. In other words, using phrases like “those youngsters” and “our veteran employees” should be shelved in favor of more friendly references (or simply not used at all). When introducing Millennials to their future co-workers, for example, Thier says assigning buddies, mentors, and teams is a great way to help engage the recruits and give them insights into the positions and the company.

“Bring Millennials into projects, give them opportunities to work up the ladder in teams, and let them present (in gradual complexities),” says Thier. “The point is to prevent isolation – especially from the guts of the organization – and not treat individuals as though they are like ‘everyone else’ in that age group.” Other good engagement and retention tools that Thier has tested out include leveraging social networking to create meet-up opportunities (a Facebook invitation for a Super Bowl party, for example) and well thought out compensation and incentive plans to help Millennials envision their future career paths with your firm.

Gavatorta says distributors and manufacturers that follow the steps outlined in this article and that really take the time to understand the workforce’s youngest generation will reap significant rewards from their efforts. “Not only will you minimize bottom-line costs associated with unhappy employees and mis-hires (a cool savings of 15 times base salary for every worker that otherwise would have left for greener pastures),” says Gavatorta, “but you’ll also be improving top line productivity and helping Millennials maximize their potential. It’s a win-win for sure.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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