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Bridging the Generation Gap

by Stuart Michaelson

Stereotyping an age group may be unfair, but ignoring generational differences could be unwise, especially when it comes to hiring, training, onboarding and retaining those sought-after 20-to-34-year-olds.

Millennials, it’s said, tend to change jobs frequently, are more comfortable with their elders than past generations, need encouragement on the job, care about where they live as much as where they work and enjoy organized activities.

Area professionals who employ, recruit and assist millennials are well aware of these and other impressions, accurate or otherwise, which is useful, especially here.

Philadelphia’s millennial-friendly reputation is well-documented: A Pew Charitable Trust report, based on the years 2006 to 2012, indicates that the city had the largest increase, at 6.1 percent, of 20-to-34-year-olds among all U.S. cities. Also, data from the U.S. Census and professional-service firm JLL show that the city’s millennial population is increasing fastest among the 10 largest U.S. cities, from 2006 to 2014, with an additional 120,600 millennials, who make up 26.5 percent of the city’s residents.

Geoff Gross, founder and CEO of Medical Guardian, Philadelphia, says that about 60 percent of his 105 workers are under 35 and that his employees, who make phone sales of medical-alert devices for seniors and tech and billing support, enjoy a welcoming workplace.

As many millennials like walking to work, Gross says his Center City location is appealing, as is his company’s collaborative work environment, which includes achievement recognition, such as awards for good work, organized social and charitable activities and a wall decorated with employees’ caricatures.

His office has an open collaborative space for his workers, whose average age has changed over the last decade from 40-to-50 to mid-20s-to-mid-60s. He finds millennials enjoy collaboration, feedback and, to a point, workplace meetings, provided in weekly “huddles” and monthly company-wide sessions where he discusses business initiatives.

Gross realizes that “most millennials would rather work for a marketing agency than a medical-alert company,” so he engages them with holiday parties, informative (sometimes comical) videos, company T-shirts and such team activities as volleyball, bowling and trips to Phillies’ games.

Gross offers a culture that mixes work and play and says millennials’ reputation as being comfortable with their elders helps in jobs with his company that entail fielding seniors’ phone calls.

“[They] are encouraged to talk to our elderly customers as they would talk with their grandparents, with patience and empathy; that way they will understand what clients are going through.”

The right environment
Another workplace with millennials firmly on the radar: Vanguard. Karen Fox, manager, university relations and recruiting partnerships for Vanguard Human Resources, says millennials comprise about 30 percent of the Malvern investment-management company’s 15,000 employees.

While cautious about generalizations, Fox agrees that millennials value experience over possessions and care more about doing meaningful things than solely on salary and position.

“They tend to seek greater life/work experiences than going for the 60-to-80 hour work week,” adds Fox, who says millennials value their parents and others’ age more than past generations did, and that they also put a lot of weight on recognition. “They want to do something meaningful. They believe in giving back, in volunteering.”

Vanguard, Fox says, appeals to these needs through mentoring, a culture of inclusion, informational meetings and the Malvern location’s first floor, “where people meet and greet, it’s like a fancy food court.”

Mentoring happens “in a structured way: We go to a manager and say a new worker needs time to meet with a co-worker to learn a new skill. The manager either says ‘yes’ for that time or offers an alternative time.”

In terms of getting those 30 percent to Vanguard in the first place, Fox, who seeks recent graduates for specialized client roles and leadership-development opportunities, says between 800 and 1,000 students were recruited this year. “[Recruitment],” she says, “is a good experience even for those who aren’t hired.” And, those interviewed on campus often pass along the word about Vanguard to fellow students.

Vanguard, Fox adds, reaches out to college students with open positions in an early-career process, sometimes between one and three years out, though usually for recent grads. She says about 80 percent are for full-time paying jobs, the rest being for internships or full-time summer, paid slots.

Students are sought by partnerships with schools, clubs and campus organizations, and through online sites like LinkedIn and The Muse. Jobs include contact-center positions, which involve taking calls from prospective clients. For those requiring licenses, the early few weeks on the job may be related to passing license exams.

Onboarding success, she adds, includes training for client relationships and learning about software.

Find the common thread
Nicole Wormley, senior manager for U.S. talent acquisition at Campbell Soup for the greater Philadelphia area, takes a measured approach in assessing millennials. She says hiring, onboarding, training and retention processes are no different among age groups.

“All employees,” she adds, “have a thirst for feedback, and want to know how they are doing and what is expected of them.” And while she doesn’t buy into the generalization that millennials are more likely to change jobs than their elders, she says some companies “sell to get them in the door, but can’t always maximize what they sold them.”

Wormley sees a stronger relationship with family and says millennials are more comfortable than their elders in dealing with bosses. Bringing millennials into Campbell, Wormley says, involves going to area campuses, as she leads the company’s entry-level and experienced talent-acquisition strategy, with responsibility for diversity-recruitment attraction. While she is involved with recruitment nationally, 60-to-70 percent of recruits come from this area.

She conducts panel discussions with recent graduates and networks with undergrads; local schools include Rutgers, Temple and Villanova. She also utilizes Campus Philly, a nonprofit encouraging college students to live, study and work in the region.

Campus Philly president Deborah Diamond acknowledges truth in some millennial generalizations. Namely, that they change jobs more often, are comfortable with their elders (“called their parents ‘Joe’ and ‘Sally’”), and benefit from thoughtful coaching the “Oreo cookie” approach. “The lesson is in the middle, but the coating can be a positive message, ‘I appreciate you did this, but what you delivered is not what we are looking for.’”

Diamond says millennials put as much value on where they live as where they work. “They like to feel connected to the community outside of work,” she says, “since many were teens during the 2008 economic crisis, when people lost homes and jobs.”

To reach this group, the nonprofit recommends that area employers become corporate members of Campus Philly, which partners with 35 colleges and universities, and has some 4,300 student profiles and 1,200 employers posting opportunities.

More opportunities
As to onboarding and retention, Diamond says employers need to encourage workers to network where they work and consider different jobs within their company, “to show them there is a ladder.”

Jim Geier, president and CEO, Human Capital Consulting Partners, says area companies—which his firm helps hire and keep—can attract millennials by updating their websites, making office environments attractive and onboarding by clearly explaining office environments.

“On-boarding is important to all employees, especially new college grads. …What are the normal day-to-day expectations, how do you handle yourself in business meetings? Supervisors need to do more coaching than they might like in the first 90 days, six months, year.”

Finally, he summarizes, “[Young workers] need to understand the hierarchy, and, at the same time, traditional organizations need to see that millennials are more informal.”

That said, it’s clear to see that many companies are finding a common ground upon which to build a solid foundation for success

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 3 (February, 2016).
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