Reflecting on How to Engage and Retain Young Professionals

Wed, 2016-10-05 16:46 -- Susan

On Monday, over 80 people attended our workshop, “How to Engage and Retain the Next Generation of Young Professionals.” The energy in the room grew throughout the day, as participants listened to the information presented and related it to their own perception of the issues surrounding our workforce. I wanted to capture what I thought were some of the take-aways for me.

First, young people are listening and they want to engage. We could tell simply by looking at the number of participants who fell into the “millennial” age group at the meeting. Of course, since 2015, this has also been the largest age group in our country’s workforce. They were there as young professionals seeking careers, but also as employers and workforce development experts. In research about why communities are aging done by Craig Schroeder in May 2014, he found that the reasons most young people who don’t expect to stay in their rural community include: perceived greater opportunities outside the home community (42%), lack of entertainment opportunities (18%), lack of shopping opportunities (14%) – and they are disconnected because they have never been asked by adults about how to make the community attractive to young adults (64%). If we make the decision that we want young people to make Humboldt home, simply opening the conversation to them makes a difference.

Which leads to my second observation: The conversation is only truly effective if we listen and are flexible to employee needs.  One of the most important roles of the conference was to show different perspectives. One noticeable point of difference came from the discussion about cost of living versus tight margins for many of our local businesses. One comment from the evaluations said, “I was surprised at the general consensus that the minimum wage is not sufficient,” which directs us to a starting point for a conversation. There was additional discussion about needing a college degree for jobs that didn’t used to require them, which brought to light the barriers and financial burden that young people accept to become part of the job market.  Yet, when discussing the important characteristics of an employee, having a degree was not listed. When discussing the characteristics of a good job, money did come up, but so did many other benefits like flexible hours, the opportunity for growth, the ability to make a difference in the organization, the importance of personal goals as well as professional ones. When our margins don’t allow us to pay more, where can we make changes to create a more valuable position?

The third thing that I took away was the importance of marketing yourself. This was advice for the job seekers, and more than one mentioned in the evaluations that they were surprised to find that as few as 10% of the available jobs were ever advertised. The real insight came when it was the same advice for the employers. Employers no longer have the luxury of getting to pick from a long list of qualified candidates for their jobs. There are more jobs than there are qualified candidates, and Millennials have selective taste about what makes a job attractive. A smart employer will be proactive about seeking candidates who are most likely to flourish in their environment.   

Overall, the response from the conference was that this was an important discussion. And, while we encouraged people to start working on their own big ideas, it is important that we find ways to continue the conversation. If you want to be part of it, please let me know at (707) 798-6132, or email susans@aedc1.org. 

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