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Onboarding for the 'On Demand' Generation

July 28, 2015
Or, how to keep millennials from bailing on day one.

In manufacturing, onboarding has historically meant, "Fill out some intake forms with HR, do the safety training, then go see Joe on the shop floor who can tell you all you need to know in the five minutes before his lunch break." That might have worked 20 years ago, but if you want your millennial employees -- who value face time with the boss and organizational transparency -- to stick around past lunch, you've got to up your game.

"Millennials tend to decide whether to stay with a company long-term by the end of their first day," says Jeannine Kunz, director of Tooling U-SME, a manufacturing training firm. The upside: Once you've won them over, they're very loyal.

This "on-demand" generation is used to gathering information and arriving at conclusions quickly, so from Day One, clearly communicating your organization's higher purpose and how the new employee fits into it is key, Kunz says. If you can bring a social conscience into your message, all the better: A recent survey by Deloitte found that 75% of millennials believe businesses are "too focused on their own agendas and not enough on helping to improve society."

The boss should be the one doing the communicating; don't delegate it to a human resources associate. "What we've seen is that millennials like to be taught by the managers," says Jack McGrath, president of e-learning company Digitec Interactive. "They're not real big on training with HR. They want that connection with whoever's in charge, and then a buddy to partner up with to give them a social component."

McGrath suggests assigning two mentors during onboarding -- someone high-ranking in the company, and then a "peer mentor" who can be more hands-on and answer day-to-day questions.

"Millennials tend to decide whether to stay with a company long-term by the end of their first day -- the upside: once you've won them over, they're very loyal."

— Jeannine Kunz, director of Tooling U-SME

Kunz stresses that it's important to have structure in the onboarding program: to write a curriculum, designate people with good communication skills as trainers and then make sure the trainers actually receive training in how to best teach people. Having a plan "shows you value that employee, that you're making an investment and not just turning them loose in the plant," she says.

A nice complement to all the mentoring is self-directed learning, something 52% of millennials are "very interested" in, according to a Society for Human Resources survey. If that self-directed learning has a gamification or simulation component, says McGrath, all the better.

For instance, Digitec recently rolled out an onboarding program for the biotechnology firm Genentech that includes tasks like job shadowing and reading relevant blogs. New employees decide when to complete the tasks within the 90-day time frame. After they finish a set of tasks, they reach "milestones," receive feedback from their managers and earn points in an online competition with other newbies for correctly answering questions related to their jobs. Those with high scores receive accolades on the company website.

Not all manufacturers, though, have the budget to create a huge virtual onboarding program. In that case, use what you've got: a plant full of unique gadgets. Treat your new recruits to an insider's tour of all the fascinating machinery.

"Manufacturers are humble in nature," says Kunz. "I respect that." But if manufacturers want to keep millennials interested, "it's something we need to change because so much of manufacturing is cool. It's filled with the latest technology and with so many challenging jobs."

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