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Employers looking for ways to attract millennials as they recruit for jobs

Last Updated Mar 11, 2016 at 5:36 am EST

Young people line up to attend a Toronto Community Housing employment fair. VIA TORONTO COMMUNITY HOUSING

The old adage suggests you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but a growing number of companies are discovering the hard way that they’ll have to learn some in order to attract and retain the next generation of employees.

Tried-and-true recruitment tools and well-established career paths have little impact on millennials, commonly defined as those born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

Companies are increasingly hearing the same tale from both academic research and anecdotal experience — work-life balance holds more sway than the lure of a future partnership, meaningful employment may prove more attractive than lucrative work and the carrots dangled during the interview process had better still be on the table once the ink is dry on the contract.

That wish list has unfairly branded Gen Y as a shiftless group with a poor work ethic and a sense of entitlement, says Lisa Sterling, executive vice-president at Ceridian, a human capital management technology firm.

She disputes the characterization, saying the difference between millennials and their older peers is more about priorities than work ethic.

“Millennials want their careers to progress, but they don’t necessarily need the same type of progression,” Sterling said in a recent interview.

“They don’t need to be a VP to define who they are. Their definition of success is their contributions and the impact that they make on society, their coworkers, what have you.”

For older generations, Sterling adds, “success was defined by what our title was.”

Similar findings emerged during a two-year study commissioned by international financial services firm PWC, which noted that millennial hires were spending only a few years with the company before departing for greener pastures.

The study, which interviewed about 40,000 participants through both online polls and focus groups, found that members of Gen Y did not expect a single employer to meet all their needs and were therefore prepared to move around frequently during their careers.

Job security, therefore, was not as important as job quality, the study found. Millennials placed a much higher emphasis on a positive work culture, opportunities for development and job metrics that focused on quality of work.

PWC National Talent Leader Debbie Amery said adapting to changing expectations became a pressing corporate priority as more millennials joined the firm, adding that Gen Y-ers now comprise 80 per cent of all employees.

In response to the study, Amery said the firm developed a number of programs.

One offers undergraduate business students co-op placements during peak seasonal periods that equip them for more senior roles upon graduation. Another allows employees to take short-term assignments in other parts of the company to learn various aspects of the business and develop their personal and professional network.

Underpinning everything, Amery said, is a “teach don’t tell” learning approach and increasing use of technology that allows for easy collaboration from anywhere in the world.

Quick responsiveness in all facets of work life is a key part of both attracting and retaining young talent, she said.

“Millennials are really looking at receiving that immediate, ongoing feedback,” she said. “(It’s) critical for them as they look to grow their skills.”

Sterling agreed, theorizing that the emphasis on immediacy stems from growing up in a technology-oriented culture in which material is shared fast and often.

Direct feedback also lies at the heart of a successful millennial recruitment strategy, she said.

She said young job-seekers respond best to hearing about their future employers directly from peers performing similar roles, not from human resources staff spouting generalities about the company.

Such an approach appears to lie at the heart of a campaign launched by Loblaw, featuring videos of young employees talking about their progressions through the organization and the culture they’ve experienced while working there.

Sterling said Ceridian often takes its message beyond social media platforms like LinkedIn and traditional job fairs, saying the company has had success visiting places like Comic Con where prospective recruits may go on their leisure time.

It’s a course of action the company emphasizes to clients, she said.

“The power really has gone to the person, not to the organization anymore,” she said. “We need to go to where they live, where they’re engaging, where they’re interacting.”