Want Millennials to Stay? Invest in Corporate Learning.

05/02/2016 05:10 pm ET Updated May 03, 2017

With this year's college graduation ceremonies on the near horizon, employers are once again tuning in to how best to attract and retain the new workforce generation.

Guy Berger, PhD, Economist at LinkedIn, and Gloria Yang, Senior Associate of Business Operations Analytics at LinkedIn, recently evaluated LinkedIn user data and extrapolated that "job-hopping" is increasing steadily over time.

This particular analysis of millennial retention speaks to a larger issue: employers must adjust corporate values, workplace environment, and team structures to stay competitive. Integrating corporate education into a company's strategic goals is the way to enact these needed changes and create and maintain an agile business.

By investing in corporate learning, employers have the power to address millennial retention in three key areas: talent attraction; job readiness; and culture change.

Corporate Learning for Talent Attraction
PwC's major survey of millennials in the workplace investigated what this population seeks in a job. Apart from opportunities for advancement and competitive compensation, the survey pointed to one top priority: training and development.

Corporate learning has been critically under-leveraged in the race to attract millennial talent.

Millennials want to know whether they will have the opportunity to develop a strong set of competencies and transferable skills that can not only be useful now, for their current employer, but in the future, as well, as their careers advance. They are considering their future career trajectories and committing to working now for companies that will support that priority--whether they end up staying or leaving.

In my book, Learning to Succeed: Rethinking Corporate Education in a World of Unrelenting Change, I profile Melissa, a 27-year-old computer programmer with multiple Ivy League degrees. With her education, experience, and skill set, she was highly sought-after as a prospective employee.

The primary question in Melissa's mind when searching for opportunities was whether her new employer would help her learn what she needed to know to be prepared for a position in senior management; would she have access to training that enhanced her leadership, negotiations and communications skills so that she could progress in her career?

She compared reputational values to make her choice: which companies had strong rankings in terms of developing people? Which were featured in the media or in journals? What did her network think about specific organizations? She chose a tech/media company reputed to be strong in training and learning, and has to date stayed there for five years.

Corporate Learning for Job Readiness

Moreover, high turnover hurts attraction and retention. Job cultures that have a reputation for extracting the best from their employees, only to replace them with more highly skilled and developed workers later, are perceived as far less attractive than those that have a reputation for injecting the best in transferrable skills and career development direction for their pool on a consistent basis.

A second example from Learning to Succeed speaks to the importance of corporate learning for job readiness, for the benefit of both employer and employee.

Jeff was an administrative assistant for a partner in a Chicago-based national accounting firm. His division experienced tremendous growth, and so part of Jeff's added responsibility in expanding the firm was to source job applicants. Jeff's responsibility with the recruiting effort escalated beyond the intended scope. Since his experience and skills with the leading social media applications was limited, Jeff struggled to source, sort, analyze, and communicate with the pool. He proved to be less than effective with the hiring project and, in the process, sacrificed quality on his baseline projects and responsibilities as well. Jeff was replaced.

The impact on Jeff was clearly devastating. The impact on the organization was more significant than expected, given the time involved to onboard a new person into a complex and nuanced culture. If Jeff's older firm had helped Jeff develop a new skillset at the outset of this process, a proper course of training would have been assessed and implemented to support the strategic recruiting effort--and Jeff would have stayed in his job.

Corporate Learning for Culture Change
Corporate learning not only addresses the hard skills--it can also address culture. Corporate learning guides people, particularly people of different generations, to work better together. And corporate learning can guide company culture to become a more attractive place to work.

Take an example of a startup that, at first, failed to curate its cross-generational teams, then enacted a culture-focused workshop that helped right the ship.

This software startup launched a next generation messaging app. To increase the security of its messaging platform, its leadership agreed to merge with a well-established encryption company. The average age of the engineers at the start-up was only 23, while the average age of the engineers at the encryption company was nearly 40. This created an unanticipated culture gap between the two sets of engineers, which interfered with the integration of the units. Each unit had age-linked differences in approaches to time management, collaboration, strategic goals, and work habits. It became apparent that the two engineering teams were having difficulty working together.

As a result, productivity suffered. The learning professional in the encryption company proposed a three-day offsite workshop designed to address the culture gap by encouraging a focus on shared interests, goals, and commitment to results. After the session, there was a notable improvement in cooperation and morale that led to increased productivity. The investment in the logistics of the workshop, a concrete cost, and the lost time in the office of key staff members, a less concrete cost, paid off. The effort integrated both teams into one engineering department and facilitated the design of secure, new products.

Companies that don't learn and adapt to today's new normal marketplace will not last. Invest in strategic corporate education, and talent attraction, job readiness and culture change will improve alongside the overall bottom line.