Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Retaining Gen Y the main challenge for employers
Michelle Keller

FOR graduating college seniors, the job market is, well, awesome: Hiring is up sharply and corporate competition for the Class of 2006 is hot.

But for employers, the real challenge isn’t getting the freshly minted grads to sign on. It’s getting them to stay.

Employers and hiring experts say the younger generation no longer approaches the first job as a nest for the next 10 or five or even three years.

“There’s no longer a stigma in changing jobs frequently,” says Eileen Kohan, executive director of a university career centre. “It’s not unnatural for someone to have several jobs in their first five years out of college.”

That revolving door is costly. Every recruit gone after a year or so represents the loss of about 1.5 times the worker’s salary for costs associated with recruiting, training and the like, according to a survey.

War for talent

“The war for talent has shifted,” survey director Scott Pollak says. “You still want to recruit, but the new challenge is, how do you keep the best people? Retention is now a big issue.”

To understand exactly how the fickle Generation Y thinks, some employers are hiring consultants schooled in the ways of those born between 1978 and 2000, the usual definition of the group.

Companies are implementing training programmes, pairing newbies with seasoned veterans and working on integrating their newest hires in the hope of boosting retention.

Generation Y, the children of baby boomers and Gen-Xers, is often described as the entitlement generation.

Gen-Yers arrive at their first jobs with high expectations. After driving hard to be accepted to top schools and pumping up their resumes with myriad extracurricular activities and internships, many young grads expect a lush ride in the corporate world.

But while the job market may have changed, corporate culture hasn’t.

Many entry-level positions still require making copies, fact-checking reports and taking the blame when the manager messes up. In most industries, no matter how many calculus classes the wunderkind has taken, the new kid on the block will still be asked to get coffee.

And new hires may not be ready for that kind of sacrifice.

Generation Y “tends to want, and want it now,” says Carol Hacker, president of a corporate consulting and seminar company.

“They don’t want to take the time that it takes to work up. They expect that that’s going to happen pretty quickly,” she adds.

Since graduating in 2004 with a degree in human biology, Paul O’Leary’s career path has been consistently inconsistent. At the age of 25, he’s on job No. 5. O’Leary went to Japan for a stint as a gymnastics coach, worked as a salesman for Bose Corp. and held jobs at Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

“I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to get out of my career,” O’Leary says. “When it gets to the point where the management or the company no longer seems in line with what I have in mind, I start looking elsewhere.”

Commitment vs mobility

Introducing new hires to the wide array of jobs available within a company is how Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has dealt with young people who aren’t quite ready to commit to one career path.

The company offers a one-year rotational programme, giving young grads a chance to sample what the company has to offer before settling into a permanent role, says Trish Hamilton, Ogilvy’s human resource manager.

Vital to the programme’s success is constant evaluation and personal development, Hamilton says.

“I work very closely with each associate, sitting down with them every two months and guiding them through their career,” she says.

Consistently checking in with young workers is one of the most important ways managers can foster a good working relationship with Gen-Yers, says Bruce Tulgan, the founder of a management consulting company.

“The key is having an ongoing dialogue,” he says. Tulgan recommends “spelling out expectations every step of the way and being honest with folks about how they’re doing.”

With young workers just stepping out of the classroom, the more specific the expectations, the better people respond, says Carol Cincotta, senior vice president and human resources director at an international public relations agency.

Ketchum uses in-house training and consultants to teach its young associates about core practices of the business and even whether walking around the office with iPod earphones is frowned upon.

“No one teaches that college,” Cincotta says.

Mentoring helps integrate

Ketchum also is starting a one-year rotation programme similar to Ogilvy’s, giving account associates the chance to work through different departments in the firm, with regular feedback sessions.

Although many companies in the finance, consulting and technology fields have programmes to teach hard skills, including how to build financial models, soft skills programmes — which emphasise workplace politics, career development and communication — are increasingly in vogue.

Many employers, particularly small businesses without the resources to hire consultants, find that simply pairing young workers with mentors can be a good way to integrate the new hires into company culture.

“They can be either peers, people that have recently come to the company who they can relate to or people who have been with the organization for a number of years whom they can respect,” says Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXroads, a consulting company.

In 1999, Clifton Gunderson, an accounting and consulting firm, started a career development network to pair senior managers or partners with newer hires. In the programme, the more recent arrivals have an opportunity to create career paths with their mentors, “someone who cares about you and who knows how to take you where you want to go,” says Lauren Malensek, chief human resource officer at Clifton Gunderson.

The mentorship program has been one of the most successful components of the firm’s training and professional development program, offering tangible results, Malensek says.

If all fails and a young hire walks into the office to give two weeks’ notice, offer to stay connected in case future opportunities arise, says RainmakerThinking’s Tulgan.

“Stay in touch with people and try to re-recruit them,” Tulgan says. “The goal from a business standpoint should be to continue to get a return on the investment.”

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