Millennials: Let Us Into the Workforce

Like it or not, the inevitable generational shift is well underway, and with this in mind, talent managers’ desire to attract millennial workers seems fierce. The 18- to 33-year-old cohort will soon represent the largest portion of the workforce. Because of this, the recruiting industry has tapped into the next generation of workers, attempting to determine millennials’ wants and needs.

But recent employment reports are grim, continually showing evidence that Gen Y is scrambling to find work. The U.S. Labor Department, in its March jobs report, said the youth unemployment rate for March is 11.7 percent, but when the labor force participation rate is factored in, the effective unemployment rate becomes 16.2 percent.

“March was another lost month for my generation,” Evan Feinberg, president of nonprofit organization Generation Opportunity, was quoted as saying in the March 2013 Millennial Jobs Report. Feinberg blames the monumental deficit and government spending for the lack of employment opportunity. “One in six of us don’t have a job,” he said. “Half of us are doing no better than a part-time job. All the while, we are all stuck with a bill that keeps getting bigger. It’s like we’re the last one to leave the bar and everybody else ran out without paying their tab.”

However, economists said it’s not uncommon for younger workers to experience disproportionate increases in unemployment during economic downturns. In an April paper titled “The Class of 2013,” the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that the financial collapse continues to heavily impact young people and their ability to find employment for the fifth consecutive year. This depressed workforce not only features a lack of jobs but also depreciated wages.

Experts at the Economic Policy Institute said it’s doubtful there’s any specific reason why an employer would be reluctant to hire a millennial. “Speaking generationally, I think the bigger problem is just that there aren’t a lot of job openings for all of these new graduates, so they’re having a tough time even finding places to apply to,” said Nicholas Finio, a co-author of the EPI paper. “Younger workers have less experience, so the unemployment rate is higher for recent graduates, but it’s all because the economy is in this bad position.”

Finio said this isn’t a job applicant’s fault, and there’s nothing specific that needs to be done for new graduates to improve job prospects.

The HR industry has spent a large amount of resources to determine what Gen Y wants in a 9-to-5 job, and companies have tried techniques including providing feedback, workplace flexibility and on-site perks such as a gym, meals and dry cleaning services.

Sarah Doll, senior director of talent management Enova International in Chicago, said that millennials’ desire to learn and grow is a key element of the financial services company’s success. “At Enova, we look to all our employees to challenge the status quo and help us innovate,” said Doll. “We provide an enviornment for Gen Y to grow and attain career success.”

Enova is able to determine employees’ workplace wants and needs through surveys distributed to its team.

“We found that Gen Yers blend their work and outside social life together,” said Doll, Enova’s senior director of talent management. “Since we expect a lot from our employees, we want to ensure that we’re providing them with some conveniences onsite.”

Perks for Enova’s employees include massages, haircuts, manicures and yoga. Later this month, it will offer its workers Pilates classes. There’s also a free dry cleaning service available as well as food in every breakroom.

“These are things that they enjoy and that they would be doing elsewhere, and we make sure that we give these options to them onsite so they can just briefly step away from their desks for 10 or 15 minutes,” Doll said.

Doll said that monthly social outings are planned for its entire workforce, such as bowling events, cross-functional team events and happy-hour meet-ups to encourage employees to socialize and remain engaged with one another.

Enova’s summer interns also gave Doll and her colleagues insight into Gen Y. Doll said last year’s interns said they would like to see more philanthropic events planned. “Obviously [philanthropy] is a win-win for both the company and millennial, because we’re doing something good for the community, and in turn Gen Yers feel like they’re making a difference somewhere else,” Doll said.

According to a 2012 study from staffing firm Adecco, 68 percent of millennials identify the opportunity for learning and development as a key professional priority. To that end, Facebook, for example, has brought in guest speakers to help educate its employees. Firms such as Hilton and Microsoft implement philanthropic leadership training to strengthen their workforce. This helps Gen Y, but not until they get a foot in the door.

And since there’s an abundance of millennials looking for work, Adecco advises employers to hire a specific fit. The report said that the right Gen Y hire should be someone who is able to do the work, someone with team spirit and who is manageable. Equally important is hiring a millennial who fits the corporate image, is personally compatible with your company and is “an emotionally mature adult with sound and rational judgment who will be a tremendous asset to your department and your company.”

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.