As millions of baby boomers gleefully head into retirement in the coming years, the ability to recruit and retain younger workers from Generation Y--the largest generation since the boomers--will become critical.
In fact, by 2014 there will be nearly 63 million Generation Y employees in the workforce, while the number of baby boomers in the workplace will dip from 59 million today to fewer than 48 million, predicts human resources firm NAS Recruitment Communications, Cleveland. The number of Generation X workers in the workforce will remain about 41 million from now until 2014, the HR firm says.
To attract and keep Gen Y workers, businesses need to take a different approach than they did with previous generations, solution providers say.
"Today's workers are totally different individuals," says Stacey Spencer, vice president and CIO of managed services for Uni-Data & Communications in Flushing, N.Y. "They have a different perspective on what the marketplace is and what their job is. It's a tough thing that no one really has the answer to." While there's no one answer, a panel of VARs at the recent VARBusiness 500 conference discussed some of the strategies they have found to be successful.
1. Offer generous referral bonuses. One VAR has found success recruiting younger workers by implementing employee referral systems that pay out generous bonuses to workers who spread the word to their younger peers.
"I'd rather pay my employee to find a worker than pay someone else," said Sean Burke, president of Govplace in Irvine, Calif.
Govplace also hosts after-work networking events, in which younger staff are encouraged to bring peers.
2. Consider different geographies. Govplace also found that its location was hindering it from finding younger workers at the right stage in their career.
"We were in Santa Barbara before, where we were constantly struggling to retain younger workers, because in that area they were right out of college and it was their very first career. So we moved to a new location, in Irvine, where there was a huge community of other businesses to draw from," Burke said.
3. Keep 'em moving. When a business has no other choice than to draw from pools of recent college grads, however, the key to retaining young guns is to give them different opportunities throughout the business, another VAR said.
"We'll bring on five interns right out of college and roll them into some part-time work over the course of the next summer. Eventually that will turn into one person, who we will have work in one area for a year and then move into another area," said Ed Partenope, vice president of operations at Innovativ, a VAR in Edison, N.J. "We have an unusually high retention rate because we are able to move them into different roles around the company." Keeping younger employees onboard will be a particularly tough challenge for businesses, as younger workers often have multiple jobs before age 30.
Partenope acknowledged that it's tough to invest in five interns that result in only one full-time employee, but said that for many businesses the younger generations are the only place left to turn.
"Once you tap a marketplace, there's no one left," he said.
4. Tlk 2 them. While face-to-face communication is important for workers of any age, electronic communication becomes an essential supplement for Gen Y workers. In fact, Dallas-based solution provider CompuCom changed its employee communications in response to feedback from its younger workforce.
"We provided a video update of our business and we started doing blogs," said Jim Dixon, CEO of CompuCom. That's not to say younger workers don't also require strong personal communications; in fact, VARs at the panel said that younger workers often require more one-on-one communication with senior management.
5. Get flexible. Offering flexible work schedules that include options such as remote working arrangements is another trend VARs are using to attract and retain younger workers.
6. Community service. Younger workers, more so than previous generations of workers, are seeking companies that contribute to the community through volunteer work, said Angela Trillhaase, senior vice president of Meridian Group, Deerfield, Ill.
7. Think beyond the short term. VARs and vendors must work together via mentoring programs and educational efforts to drive interest in the IT industry at the middle-school and high-school levels, said Laurie Benson, CEO of Inacom Information Systems, Madison, Wis.
"It's incumbent on us as an industry to keep that on-ramp full," Benson said. "We need to work together to rebrand IT."
The panel of VARs agreed that the most important tactic for businesses looking to retain young staff is to listen to them, as the younger generation of workers tends to be outspoken about their workplace wants and needs. n