The Secret to Attracting Top Millennial Talent to Your Firm - By a Millennial

2015-10-20-1445376496-2424174-14859431102_1727ebfc01_c.jpg
Credit: Creative Commons Business Lounge Amsterdam by Apps for Europe. Protected under the CC BY license.

Do we have any idea what millennials really want out of work?

Firms spend big money trying to understand what millennials want in a job, and how to characterize the newly millennial-majority workforce. Yet even as millennials represent a bigger fraction of the workforce than Generation-Xers, companies still largely hang onto clichés about metrics like turnover rate and millennial interest in having work that aligns with their values. Instead of scrutinizing millennial tendencies, it is time to embrace them.

"Research suggests that today's college graduates will have a dozen or more jobs by the time they hit their thirties. In an uncertain job environment, it has become societally and culturally okay that they explore." -- Emily He, CMO

The expectations have changed. Your twenties are used as the time where you actually figure out what you want to do, or gain the tools and skills necessary to attain your dream position. All the research has been put into what millennials want out of work and how to mentor young millennials, but there is still one aspect that nobody has yet touched on: The innate interest millennials have for an education in the workplace.

Firms should emphasize that their employees receive a true education in tangible, concrete technological and communication skills that will feed millennial interest, ambition, and entrepreneurial spirit. This helps differentiate a firm as an attractive incubator of young leaders, and may even help reduce turnover.

There are a variety of factors that influence whether or not an employee stays with any given firm, and many of them are outside of a firm's control (family situations, geographic preferences, overall economic performance). What a company can do is offer the kind of educational and mentorship opportunities that play to millennial tendencies to think big (regarding entrepreneurship and career progression), while promoting the development of technical skill sets to attract the most impressive, innovative, and interesting people. Some millennials will stay and some will leave, but you will have plugged the full cycle of your workforce into success-oriented professional social networks. Investing technological 21st-century skills in employees is a marker of the most successful firms (Google, Kickstarter, Uber, you name it!) and it is what the best young people are looking for.

What do we know? Well, aside from compensation, PwCs ongoing study of millennials highlights two features of businesses that make them attractive employers: (1) opportunities for career progression; and (2) excellent training and development programs. Conventional wisdom might see this as a contradiction. How is it that millennials want to develop themselves, but want to leave their jobs relatively quickly? The answer lies in the fact that millennials understand that the nature of education is changing, and they see work experiences as opportunities to learn technical skills, gain legitimacy, and develop professional networks that will all bolster forays into future entrepreneurship and ventures. Now more than ever, college graduates are foregoing a graduate education and immersing themselves directly in the workforce to learn the hands-on skills and strategies that will build their successful careers.

The lesson is not just to embrace your millennials and leverage their understanding of the social media, but to give a sense that your company offers an education in a set of technical and communicational skills. A company that invests in its employee's facility with skills like data analysis, public speaking, and basic computer programming will entice talented millennials regardless of what they ultimately want to go into.

Why Education in the Workplace Matters

1. Millennials are increasingly understanding that the traditional link between education and employment is changing and weakening. EY and PwC have dropped the educational screen for new applicants, and the Hack Reactor and App Academy highlight that millennials understand that employers are looking for expertise in very specific skills that are best developed with real-world experience.

2. Millennials view stints jobs, whether in research, tech startups, or consulting, as educational experiences with concrete deliverable new skills that can be applied in their own startups and ventures down the road. They want to improve data analysis skills. They want to become better public speakers. They want to develop professional networks that will support them when they go out and try their own luck.

3. Part of education is having mentors. "This is a generation that wants to be heard and have conversations instead of listening to a presentation straight through," according to Dan Schawbel. Millennials are told to look for jobs through networking and social media, and they expect that once they are at a job, part of the benefits package is being plugged into a new network that will follow them in their next job or startup venture even after they are gone!

Lessons to Employers

1. Articulate the practical technical skills that you will help your employees hone. Even millennials who want to go off and start an NGO may be interested in developing their data science skills for some time. Whether it be machine learning, pivot tables, or public speaking, what are you going to make sure your employees know by the time they've put in two years?

2. Advertise what your alumni do. This is the LinkedIn generation, and millennials think seriously about putting the pieces of their career progression together, and accumulating the experiences to prepare for the big impact career move. What are the people doing with the skills they develop at your company?

3. Formalize a networking and mentorship structure. It's been well known that millennials value feedback, however, supplement this mentorship with networking opportunities to engage your millennials on a whole new level.