Millennials are the first generation to use technology from an early age.
They don't conform with the traditional career paths of their parents, and work-life balance is extremely important to them.
And by next year, millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—will comprise 50% of the global workforce.
So it's important that employers understand millennials and recognize what they want.
"Their motivations and pain points are the same as anyone else: Feed their families, provide a roof over their head," Charles Botts III, project director for Career Team, said at CBIA's Sep. 6 The Connecticut Economy conference in Hartford.
"What significantly sets the millennial generation apart is an unwillingness to conform or cross some more traditional pathways that we have come to associate with returning to work.
"So this is very much a cohort that is empowered by the idea that I can make work work for me."
Botts joined Christina Semenza, group talent acquisition manager for Enterprise Holdings Inc., in a panel discussion focused on workforce recruiting and retention strategies for the millennial generation.
Linda Olbrys, vice president for HR partnerships at CareerCurve, moderated the discussion before 280 business leaders.
Botts said the younger generation doesn't want to stand in line and wait its turn.
"I'm not necessarily going to buy into this notion that I have to start at a particular level," he said.
"If I feel I have the value, and the acumen and the talent, regardless of lack of experience on paper, then I should be considered for any role within the organization."
Olbrys asked about the millennial practice of "ghosting" a potential employer. The phrase comes from online dating in which one person disappears and cuts off communication with no forewarning or explanation.
Botts said they've seen the trend, especially in the recruitment phase.
An applicant is scheduled for an interview but never shows up. Or an offer is made but the candidate never responds and disappears without contact.
"This trend is really a correction of the market," Botts said.
"Ghosting is not new. What's new is that the employers, the hiring folks, are on the receiving end of ghosting when traditionally the job seekers were the recipients of ghosting.
"It's not uncommon for an HR department to ghost applicants we're no longer interested in. The idea, 'Don't call us, we'll call you,' came from somewhere."
"Take the generations out of it and what's the right thing to do?" Olbrys asked.
"The right thing to do is to respond in some way, especially in this market that's going to be so tight in terms of workforce."
Enterprise Holdings tries to avoid ghosting with a recruiting process that cultivates candidates early on, Semenza said.
"It’s definitely a proactive approach," she said. "We contact every single applicant, whether we're going to move forward or not.
"Part of that is the candidate care process. Our candidates are our customers."
Enterprise begins its recruitment process sometimes years before a candidate can join them, Semenza said.
"You need a proactive approach and that begins with building your brand in a lot of different areas so your company develops a good reputation and candidates come to you," she said.
Enterprise may start recruiting an applicant as early as freshman year of college even though the applicant can't join until graduating.
"The more you can continue with that relationship, the less ghosting you'll get," Semenza said.
She may also contact someone via a platform like Linkedin but not hire that person for a year.
"You may not even have a position open at this time but you've got to look at it from a proactive, building-your-talent-pipeline perspective so that when you do have a position open, you're able to go to that pipeline, have a pool of potential candidates, and use all those years of branding to pull that person through the door," she said.
"For us it's a proactive approach with college and university recruiting, branding ourselves on campus, and using online tools to find resumes."
Enterprise also has a robust employee-referral program, she said.
Another thing millennials want is feedback from their supervisors. For them, an annual review isn't enough.
"What we've always done is provide constant feedback—that's our company culture," Semenza said.
"One of our core values is our doors are always open. We set expectations right away with our managers. We have formal once-a-month meetings and constant feedback."
Semenza said she relies on once-a-week meetings with her staff to communicate and get important feedback.
"I don't look at this as the 'me' generation wanting constant feedback. I look at it as 'How am I going to better my business?'
"I need to have that communication with my team. For me, it's a better business decision to have that constant communication."
Connecticut faces a critical shortage of skilled workers, compounded by a shrinking labor force, population loss, retirements, and the state's high cost of living.
As one of the oldest states in the U.S. by average age, the state's employers must address the challenges around the recruitment and retention of younger workers.
According to CBIA/Marcum's 2019 Survey of Connecticut Businesses, employers expect 3% of the current workforce will retire this year and 5% the following year. Between 2021 and 2024, they expect another 11% to retire.
Connecticut employers report that 41% of their workers are 40 years old or younger, while 25% of managers are 40 years old or younger.
The survey found that 55% of companies have issues finding and retaining young workers, 19% just have trouble finding them, and 8% have problems keeping them.
The top three obstacles for finding qualified young workers are a lack skills or expertise (34%), proper work ethic (25%), and the state’s high cost of living (19%).
The survey found several factors impacting retention, including living costs (37%), competition from other firms offering higher pay and more expansive benefits (27%), and a lack of opportunity for advancement (9%).
How do you get the best out of younger employees?
"Treat them like they're going to be there for a long time," says Botts. "Invest in them, make them feel valued."
Olbrys says employers should "think of millennials as a bellwether for how you should be treating everyone in your organization."
Botts added that "the motivators for younger workers are not much different from the rest of us."
"A lot of it is related to life stage," he said. "You now have millennials who are in their late thirties who are getting married, having kids, and guess what—buying homes."
Semenza said younger workers are often saddled with reputation perceptions generated by the actions of a few. She shared stories of parents calling in sick for their children or a job candidate arriving for an interview with their best friend in tow.
"Ninety-five percent of the people we interview and bring on board are completely professional," she said.
Botts agreed that those types of stories happen in every generation.
"But in this information age, we're able to share those stories more now," he said.
"You need to ask yourself, 'Is this a real trend or a viral story?'"
Businesses need to adapt to millennials, the panelists said, but they don't need to change their company culture.
"Some of the push back in this information/social media/millennial world, particularly for more traditional firms, is we've been doing business this way for a century. I would say embrace that," Botts said.
"Embrace your culture and communicate that.
"Younger talent wants to be part of an organization that knows who they are, and communicates and lives that out."