It's 2010. Do You Know Where Your Millennials Are?

April 7, 2010
Smart employers are tuning in to their best and brightest young employees now to make sure they will be able to effectively recruit and retain Millennials in the future.

It was crunch time and the manufacturing team was working long hours trying to gear up for a new product launch. After a tough year, the plant was operating shorthanded. There were the typical complaints about late nights and too much overtime but overall morale wasn't bad. Operations manager Frank was pleased to see that none of the Millennial supervisors he'd hired had quit. "I guess they feel lucky to have a steady job with a reputable company," he thought to himself.

Frank shouldn't get too smug. While tough economic times have made it harder for Millennials (the 76 million born between 1982 and 2000) to find work or to switch jobs, that doesn't mean they aren't ready, willing and able to make a change the minute the economy turns around. In fact, as the U.S. unemployment rate reached 9.5% in June of 2009, a survey by Adecco found that 71% of full-time employees age eighteen to twenty-nine said they were likely to look for new jobs as soon as the downturn reversed.

Similarly, Millennials interviewed for our book The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace expressed continued confidence, with 61% saying they felt optimistic or somewhat optimistic they could find a new job if they needed to. For the Millennials, the bad economy may have pushed the "pause" button on career advancement, but they plan on pushing "fast forward" once things improve.

Smart employers are tuning in to their best and brightest young employees now to make sure they will be able to effectively recruit and retain Millennials in the future. Here's how...

Make a Compelling Case

Most Millennials aren't sitting at their desks in school wondering how they can break into the exciting world of manufacturing. But they should be. Many companies have room for Millennials to pursue interesting careers, take on big challenges, and keep learning.

Are you doing enough to make jobs and careers come alive for Millennials? One manufacturer in the paper and packaging industry was striking out with twenty-somethings until they decided to showcase their "cutting edge" and "green" initiatives, such as a state of the art recycling plant. That was enough to get recruits in the door so they could discover the company's quality culture and emphasis on continuous learning. What do you have to offer Millennials that is unique to your industry or your company? Are you showcasing it?

Reach out to Mom and Dad

More and more Millennials are consulting the folks when it comes to making career decisions. According to a Michigan State University survey of employers, 41% said parents obtained company materials for their kids, and 26% said parents had actively promoted their son or daughter for a position. With this in mind, global logistics provider C.H. Robinson created "parent packs" to be mailed out to parents simultaneously with their child's offer letter. This allows the folks to review material about the company and benefits package in hopes they will influence their offspring's decision to come to work for the firm. Other companies have created informational websites aimed directly at parents. Why not put Mom and Dad to work as unpaid recruiters for your organization?

Create an Environment of Commitment

Encourage Millennials to think about their future with you. Too many believe they will have to change companies a few times to get enough experience on their resumes. Convince them they can build a robust career with you. Thomson Reuters recently instituted the "Line of Sight" program that has every leader in the organization communicating the company's goals to employees as part of their reviews. In addition, managers work with employees to establish individual goals and create maps that connect individual goals with the organization's. This helps Millennials see how they fit into the larger picture and encourages them to take a longer view of their careers than just surviving the recession. Since starting Line of Sight, both retention and engagement have improved.

Give Millennials a Voice

Many manufacturing firms have been built around dues-paying cultures that require employees to put in years before they can make a contribution. Millennials say they want to make a difference from day one. If you can't promote young employees immediately can you create opportunities for them to develop their skills and have some influence on their environment? The CEO of US Bank Corp., Richard Davis, recently created the Dynamic Dozen, a committee made up of Millennials who serve as a sounding board for new initiatives. Not only are these young employees energized by being asked for their opinions, but word has spread that top executives are listening to their input.

Reassure Gen X, Boomer and Traditionalist Managers

In tense economic times, those managing the younger generation find it hard to be magnanimous when they are worried about their own careers. Given the current rate of change it's easy for employees who have been around for decades to fear they will be seen as over the hill. Before you ask them to spend extra time with Millennial high potentials make sure they know they still have a job and that part of their job is to coach and counsel the next generation. Then hold people accountable.

In a recent Institute for Corporate Productivity survey, over 50% of respondents said that "lack of accountability" was a significant factor blocking knowledge transfer efforts. Managers should be reviewed on their skills at developing younger employees.

Flash forward to 2015. Frank is high-fiving two Millennial managers he mentored during the downturn of 2009-10. He's convinced they are a couple of the best hires he ever made. And he's darn glad he paid attention to recruiting and retention early on so he doesn't have to visualize them high-fiving with one of his competitors today.

Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman are nationally-known generational speakers, consultants, researchers, and the authors of the best-seller When Generations Collide (HarperCollins). Their new book, The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace (HarperBusiness) has just been published. Through their firm, BridgeWorks, Lancaster and Stillman provide keynotes, training, corporate entertainment, and a trainer certification program called BridgeBuilder. (

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