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Make Way for the Millennials – Or Else

A girl upset about youth unemployment

They’re not gonna take it

As discussed in our April 2013 article on youth unemployment, statistics for youth unemployment in Canada and around the world are at alarming levels, with about 14% of Canadians aged 15 to 24 unable to find work. While this statistic is nowhere near the staggering 23% in France, 56% in Spain, or 64% in Greece, Canadian youth unemployment currently sits at levels not seen in more than 20 years, which represents a real economic threat that will manifest itself over the next 18 years through lost wages and lost purchasing power, equating to about $23 billion in lost GDP. There are also serious consequences at the individual level, such as “wage scarring”, which essentially says that the longer one earns less, the longer they’ll continue to earn less.

Of course, the financial problems of today’s youth also translate into financial problems for their parents since it’s the parents who are saddled with the burden of supporting children they expected would have left the nest by now. Parents’ purchases are covering groceries, phone bills, computer costs, cars, and even rent if the child has moved out.

Obviously, the concerns regarding youth unemployment are not just financial. Disenfranchised young people mean high levels of social unrest, including increased rates of violence, theft, and rioting. Simply put, employers cannot continue to take a passive stance on youth unemployment. Its ramifications are all-encompassing. After all, how can businesses thrive in an economy rife with delinquent behaviour and where most of the population has little purchasing power?

The Millennial mindset

Let’s be clear: it’s not that the Millennial Generation, a.k.a. Generation Y, is doomed to devolve into roving bands of marauders à la Mad Max. Rather, Millennials will inevitably end up dominating the workforce, and soon. By 2020 – only seven years from now – Baby Boomers will dwindle to just 15% of the workforce. Generation X will make up 35% of it, but another 40% will be Millennials (with the remaining 10% made up of other age groups). This demographic shift will be unlike any other seen before it, and as such, it requires a level of preparation never before undertaken by employers, in part because of the lack of work experience some Millennials will have had when they start their new jobs, but also because the Millennial experience is quite different from those of previous generations. That experience has shaped Millennials’ values and their worldview, including their ideas of what employment should be about, which means that if employers want to make the most of the inevitable influx of Millennial candidates, they will have to understand the Millennial mindset and where it comes from.

Unlike the Baby Boomers and even the Gen Xers, Millennials came of age in a global rather than a national economy and grew up with dramatic advances in telecommunications, namely the internet and countless portable, internet-enabled devices, such as smartphones and tablets. These developments seem to have made Millennials more socially and environmentally conscious than their predecessors. For instance, studies show that Millennials volunteer more time to community initiatives than any other generation in history, that they’re extremely aware of issues such as climate change and world poverty, that they celebrate (rather than merely accept or tolerate) diversity, and that they consider family a central fixture in their lives more so than Boomers and Gen Xers.

These characteristics should have employers reflecting on how Millennials will perceive their organizations and what Millennials will expect as minimum standards in the workplace. For instance, because of their comfort with technology, Millennials will expect their employers to have certain technological capabilities. Millennials will want to leverage those capabilities not only to do their jobs more efficiently, but also so they can enjoy various benefits, such as working from home occasionally or having flexible schedules. Additionally, in keeping with their social conscience, Millennials will approach their roles as employees more so as if they are paid volunteers, meaning they will work for organizations because they want to work for them, not because they have to work for them. Millennials want to work for organizations that stand for something, who nurture their professional development, and who offer a positive and fun atmosphere. Therefore, if employers want to attract and retain top talent within what will be a sizeable cohort of new candidates, they will have to meet Millennials more than halfway when it comes to policies, practices, and philosophies.

Attracting Millennial talent

To become more attractive to Millennials, employers can implement a variety of programs, each requiring varying degrees of investment when it comes to time, money, and other resources.

  • Minimal investment
    If you have an immediate need for recent graduates, participate in on-campus career fairs and ensure your website and social media URLs are clearly visible on your collateral. You should also consider holding informational interviews where students and recent grads can drive the conversation, asking you questions about your organization. These interviews are great for exposure. And finally, offer unpaid opportunities for youth to work on short-term projects. They’ll get some valuable experience, and you’ll get certain tasks done that always seem to fall on the backburner.
  • Medium investment
    Volunteer opportunities that are not project-based, such as inviting youth to organize certain events, involve a bit more investment. So do open houses, but both are great ways to find potential employees and spread the word about how great it is to work for your organization. Another medium investment initiative is creating a strong social media presence. Practically every Millennial lives a second life online and very few organizations leverage social media effectively to take advantage of that. Establishing an effective social media presence, however, does take time, personnel, and likely some software investments.
  • Significant investment
    More costly efforts for attracting Millennial candidates include internships and summer student programs, which require significant organization and attention if they’re to be utilized properly. All too often, interns and summer volunteers are not given meaningful work and therefore come away from the experience feeling resentful – and spread the word about it. When you take on interns, make sure you give them work that makes them feel they’ve contributed to your organization. The more you treat them as actual employees, the better it is for them and for you since some of them may make fantastic future coworkers – something you wouldn’t discover if your interns are only making copies and fetching coffee. Another strategy that involves significant investment, but can result in significant payoff, is offering scholarships or other awards for students. For instance, engineering firms might offer awards to students in an engineering program at a local university, thereby promoting the organization to the most promising potential candidates.

Retaining Millennial talent

Once you have some hardworking Millennials onboard, you’ll want to keep them there, of course, which involves a series of other strategies that also entail varying levels of investment – but all of which align with Millennial values. Minimum investment strategies include training programs, job enrichment opportunities, and assigning special projects. Medium investment opportunities include job swapping initiatives, creating corporate social responsibility (CSR) committees, and career paths. Management training programs that mentor individuals for future management roles within the organization entail significant investments, but help ensure the right people take the helm of your organization when the time comes.

The children are – seriously – our future

Despite the employment obstacles many Millennials are currently experiencing, the fact remains that they are the future of Canada’s workforce, businesses, and overall prosperity. Employers should be courting, training, and retaining Millennial employees today in order to avoid being overwhelmed tomorrow by what could otherwise be a tidal wave of workers trying to catch up after several years of underemployment. And while Millennials may require various investments to meet their full potential, your return on investment is a secure future for your organization in a renewed and thriving economy.

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