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Recruit outside the lines to tap the millennial talent pool

By Lauren Friese | January 15, 2014
Recruit outside the lines to tap the millennial talent pool
Lauren Friese

Over the last few years, the media has been flooded with articles about Generation Y in the workplace. Thoughtful pieces about hiring and retaining tomorrow’s leaders have jostled for attention against emotional works which argue that Gen Y will either ruin or reinvent the workplace. Take your pick; there are many examples of each.

Driving all of this attention is a big change that’s coming and coming fast. As baby boomers retire and millennials enter the workforce in ever-increasing numbers, employers are scrambling to figure out the latest generation and its hiring needs. According to a labour force survey conducted in 2010 by Statistics Canada, by 2020, millennials are expected to make up an overwhelming 40 per cent of the work force, meaning employers have just seven years before millennials are the largest generational cohort on the job. 

A serious disparity still exists between employers’ recruitment strategies and the millennials they’re trying to attract, and the time to close that gap is running out.

But this news isn’t new. Why are employers still struggling to hire and retain millennial talent? 

Millennials are from Mars, boomers are from Venus

The first step in successfully hiring and managing millennials is understanding them. Millennials, also known as Gen Y, grew up in a then-unique environment – one that included unlimited access to information and constant feedback from parents, coaches and teachers. They also grew up being told to “do what you love” by well-meaning parents who wanted their children to pursue careers that led to more than just steady paycheques. 

Furthermore, millennials have been exposed to an overwhelming amount of media and, as a result, tend to tune out and even distrust advertising. These unique characteristics result in a generation that values specific things in employers, namely authenticity, transparency and meaningful work. 

Why employers struggle to find top millennial talent

Faced with the unique cohort that is Gen Y, employers are struggling to find and recruit top millennial talent. Traditional strategies which have worked for previous generations don’t address Gen Y-specific characteristics.

For example, the majority of recruitment programs target specific university or college degrees, such as business or engineering – degrees that the majority of millennials are not pursuing. 

Thanks to the “do what you love” parental advice, and the dying-but-not-dead-yet misconception that any university degree will land them a job, millennials are pursuing traditional university degrees, such as history, English or philosophy. 

Meanwhile, employers are overwhelmingly hiring from non-traditional or vocational degrees. A 2011 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 61 per cent of employers planned to hire business graduates and 63 per cent planned to hire engineering graduates. This may seem logical for employers, who are looking for degree titles that match job titles, but it’s not a problem-free approach. 

By following this degree-specific hiring plan, employers are limiting themselves to just 27 per cent of the total Canadian undergraduate population. It’s no wonder some employers are struggling to find top millennial talent – they’re overlooking a whopping 73 per cent of potential candidates. 

Furthermore, many recruitment programs only target specific schools, another tactic that further reduces the talent pool. 

Campus-specific strategies may have made sense when the cost of travel and other barriers made remote recruitment costly, but this challenge no longer applies in the age of the Internet. Employers can now share their recruitment message quickly and efficiently using online media, corporate websites, email marketing and more. Simply put, digital media eliminates the need to only hire from a select few schools. And employers who target specific schools because they think it’s the only way to hire the best students are wrong.

Many bright students choose their school and program based on factors that aren’t reflected in the career ambitions and skills they have once they leave school. Bright students exist everywhere, and hiring from only a few schools seriously limits an organization’s diversity potential. 

How to tap the millennial talent pool

If you’re still stuck on tired stereotypes about youth entitlement in the workplace, it’s time to let them go. To break the cycle and successfully tap the millennial talent pool, employers need to adapt their hiring practices to better meet Gen Y’s needs. 

For example, in a study by the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Young Entrepreneur Council, 52 per cent of millennials say that opportunities for career growth are an important factor in choosing an employer. Employers should, therefore, give examples of career progressions in their recruitment communications (websites, pamphlets, info sessions) and discuss potential for promotion in interviews. 

Similarly, be aware that Gen Y excels at “turning off” advertising and values authenticity and transparency. Employers should address this need by developing recruitment strategies that use clear, jargon-free language. They should also give millennials insider access to their organizations via interviews, videos and other transparent, engaging content. 

Providing digital media to your youth audience isn’t pandering to a generation addled by YouTube videos – it provides the information your potential hires want, in a medium with which they’re highly engaged. 

Ultimately, employers need to commit to recruiting outside the lines and adjusting strategies to reflect Gen Y’s unique characteristics. 

How to make the most of your new hires

Once you’ve hired top millennial talent, you’ll have to similarly adjust your employment practices to keep them.  According to the University of North Carolina study, a whopping 70 per cent of millennials plan to “change jobs once the economy improves.” It’s no wonder millennials have a reputation for being disloyal employees. But is that reputation fair?

With the right employment practices, employers can keep new hires and turn them into long-term, happy, successful employees. Here are three things you can do now to maximize your millennial talent.

First, provide regular, real-time feedback. The University of North Carolina study found that 80 per cent of millennials value on-the-spot feedback compared to traditional performance reviews. 

Next, find ways to motivate and inspire young hires; the same study found that 65 per cent value the opportunity for personal development, meaning millennials feel more comfortable and are more likely to stay in work environments that support employee growth.

Finally, millennials are team-oriented and want to work for organizations that promote collaboration. Address this by creating cross-functional teams across departments, pairing millennials with mentors and encouraging employees to work collaboratively to solve problems. 

The last 10 years have changed the face of the workplace. Whether it’s through technological innovation, increased interconnectivity or the rise of social media, no industry is unchanged. Meeting this unique challenge and ongoing change will demand the equally unique skills and adaptability that Gen Y has to offer – but you’ll have to get them to stick around. The organizations that look to the future today will have the most to show for it tomorrow. 

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