Published in Talent

Educators offer insights to engaging the next generation of workers

BY Josh Veal Sunday, February 21, 2016 09:20pm

With the arrival of a new generation of workers comes a new set of personal and cultural values that employers must adapt to as they try to attract and retain the top talent. 

To understand common motives and ambitions among young business professionals, employers often turn to educators who already have firsthand experience working closely with the demographic. 

Candid conversations in and out of the classroom can provide academic instructors and advisers with insight into the changing times. 

“I think millennials have a bit of a different view of the workplace,” said Koleta Moore, associate director of graduate programs at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business. “They’re more invested in a work/life balance. With some of the downsizing that happened in the 2000s, that innate organization loyalty isn’t the same as it was in previous generations. Employers have got to be mindful of these things. How does this young person who has come into school and taken the time and effort to educate themselves get a return from a company without having to go elsewhere?”

While bringing in fresh faces may inject new energy into a workplace, employers can quickly lose that drive, and then the employees themselves, by not acknowledging and respecting their desires, Moore said. In her view, the key to retaining millennial talent is keeping them engaged. 

That need for engagement was echoed by other local academics. 

“They want jobs that are going to excite and engage them,” said Bob Clarkson, associate dean of Davenport University’s Donald W. Maine College of Business. “I think probably 20, 30 years ago, pay, benefits and stability were things that you saw as being the number one concern. Now, you’re seeing that a lot of students want jobs that really fit what they’re about. They’re willing to maybe sacrifice a little bit in pay and stability because they really want jobs that are going to ignite their passion for the work.”

Educators say employers can inspire that passion by encouraging and rewarding innovation, introducing variety into the workplace and promoting an explicit set of corporate values with which potential employees can align. They feel the new generation wants to have a clear idea of a company’s direction and its ethos.

“We find that there is a strong sense of purpose that the millennials would like to see. The purpose is not just about money. I think the phrase to use would be, ‘a profit with purpose,’” said Sridhar Sundaram, associate dean of GVSU’s Seidman College of Business. “They’re starting to look for a specific environment that is just as important as a salary you’re going to pay.” 

Sundaram says that passing this knowledge onto employers has become a critical part of the services that business schools provide, along with developing students for the professional environment. He noted that advancements in personal technology have led to a relatively independent generation that may require more training in soft skills and team-building than before. 

However, the same independence lends itself to an entrepreneurial drive for many students entering the workforce, which can be beneficial to companies if fostered correctly.

“Something we’ve talked about — particularly with our younger professionals — is the term ‘corporate entrepreneurship.’ When you have individuals who have that mindset for development and growing new ventures, you can allow them to do it within the corporation,” Moore said. “So, they can still venture out and bring new ideas to the table, but they don’t have to leave make it happen. They get the best of both worlds.” 

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