Investing in Millennials at Jones Lang LaSalle

While the baby boomer retirement wave is an issue for many companies, it is particularly critical for a division of professional services and investment management company Jones Lang LaSalle, the facilities management group, where the typical professional is six years older than the average U.S. worker. In response, the FM group has a pilot program aimed at attracting and retaining millennials to this career, one they’re not usually familiar with or traditionally interested in.

I interviewed Chris Pesek, executive vice president and managing director of integrated facilities management for JLL’s Americas Corporate Solutions group to find out more about the program, how it compares with recruitment efforts they’ve used for previous generations and to hear more about a survey his company commissioned to find out how millennials view the industry and their career preferences. Below are edited excerpts of our conversation.

How are you attracting and retaining millennials? How is this different from what you did in the past?

Pesek: Millennials know that they are in the driver’s seat of their own careers. To make the journey at our firm a good — and long — one, we’ve focused on offering entrepreneurial options within our large company; robust coaching and mentoring programs focused on experience-based learning and development and extensive practical online training and resources.

We’re approaching this generation differently because, frankly, the stakes are higher now. Our industry faces a similar challenge to many others — only worse than most. Not only do we have an aging workforce (average age of 50 this year — six years older than the workforce as a whole), but millennials are also largely unaware of our industry as a career option. Most don’t really know that our industry even exists. These dual challenges make attraction and recruitment of this demographic absolutely critical, and that's much more challenging.

Chris Pesek, Jones Lang LaSalle
Chris Pesek, Jones Lang LaSalle

We have been transforming our recruiting, retention and training programs for some time, but this year we decided to up our game; we commissioned the first survey in our industry, facilities management, about how millennials view the industry and their career preferences. The 2014 survey uncovered a number of key learnings that we integrated into all of our training and development programs to have them resonate better with millennial workers.

Gen Y — much more so than any previous generation — craves autonomy. Contrary to popular belief, we also learned that millennials aren’t opposed to working for large companies, so long as they are given entrepreneurial opportunities and see a variety of career paths that they can take. They aren’t into climbing the traditional corporate ladder, instead preferring more of a zigzag path. With all of this in mind, it became a big priority for us to get the career mapping right.

Since awareness about the profession is a major challenge (according to the survey, only one percent of millennials are studying facility management), we are also partnering with industry associations like the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) to connect with students about the realities of the job today. In addition, we are aggressively developing internship programs and encouraging our own professionals to get out there to connect with younger generations — at vocational schools, colleges, the armed forces and other service companies.

How have you changed your learning and development offerings as a result?

Pesek: Millennials hop jobs a lot more than other generations — a serious concern given the high costs of turnover. We have observed not just job hopping, but actual career hopping. Losing hires that we’ve invested in is a significant and material issue for us, considering the substantial investment we make in our training and development programs. So, when our research emphasized how highly millennials value coaching and mentoring, we made some fundamental shifts in how managers in our facilities management group develop people. Our learning and development is now in a 70/20/10 framework — 70 percent experience, 20 percent assessment and coaching, and 10 percent traditional training.

Training and mentoring isn’t a skill that comes naturally to professionals who were self-taught, as many of our baby boomer and Gen X professionals were.  So we’ve created resources that can give them the confidence and ability to counsel younger workers appropriately — training the trainers. We also offer an online community, the Learning & Development Exchange, where managers and trainers share and collaborate on best practices, tools and resources — and to which employees have direct access.

The Exchange offers employees the ability to design more robust career maps that stretch across functional areas and lines of business to underscore the career possibilities across the entire company, not just within one division. We use shared online resources to demonstrate what we have to offer in a highly transparent way.

For example, we have met with dozens of managers and senior professionals at our firm and profiled their careers — the roles they have held and initiatives they were involved in — so that recruits and employees can see the pathway that brought these individuals to their current position. These career maps help managers have more formal development conversations with direct reports and discuss progress being made toward their next role. Managers can use the mapping tools to help their team members design stretch assignments and “in the field” experiences that will help give them the skills needed to advance their career.

The coaching and mentoring go hand-in-hand with training. It used to be that this was a profession where you learned the ropes from your boss on-the-job, but with so many managers retiring, that’s not necessarily an option. And few academic programs teach the technical skills required for the job. Therefore, we created more robust online training programs, which millennials embrace more readily than older workers. These courses help arm professionals with the technical details they need to be successful.

When did you start doing this? How do you think things will change moving forward?

Pesek:We have always had programs tailored to younger workers, but the challenge of hiring this talent has become more acute in recent years, prompting our recent research. As data analytics and technology advancements have changed the game in most fields, it has in our profession as well, requiring professionals with more advanced analytic and technical skills. Everyone is seeking the same highly coveted skills — employees who are tech-savvy and comfortable with data analytics. I think this need will only increase, across all industries.

The millennial research we conducted earlier this year helped us better understand our unique challenges, and give our recruiters more confidence in positioning job opportunities to align with the values we know are important to this generation. We already know that a high-performing, college-educated graduate doesn’t necessarily picture him/herself as the stereotypical blue shirt in a building; what we need to do is better emphasize the changing nature of the facilities management job and the impact they can have on organizations.

What do you think attracts millennials best? What are they looking for from their careers?

Pesek: Autonomy is a major attraction. Millennials are entering a workforce with expectations of having multiple careers, and are taking more control over their destiny. They want to work for companies where they can contribute ideas and make an impact, so they embrace entrepreneurial cultures that foster innovation and collaboration.

Our research showed that millennials want to work with cutting-edge technology and in innovative fields, and most of them are open to learning about new careers. Those companies that find it especially challenging to recruit or retain younger workers might need to re-examine how they are positioning job offerings in this context. Where does innovation fit into the job description? Can an entry level employee work with new technology and put their mark on innovation? How flexible are your career development opportunities? Do you offer ongoing training to keep professionals abreast of emerging or changing technical skills required for the job? Are colleagues available to help navigate roles, initiatives, and opportunities? Can they interact with other professionals across the organization, or to contribute to larger organizational goals?

It’s interesting, there’s such a strong focus on getting top millennial talent. I’ve been covering it for a few years now, but I always wonder, did you go through these great lengths for previous generations?

Pesek: The short answer is no, we did not focus on previous generations in the same way; we didn’t need to. The intensity of focusing on millennial talent relates directly to two complementary factors: the demographic shift in the workforce and the need to recruit professionals who embrace a more technology-driven environment.

The first reason we need to focus on millennial talent is because we need to recruit the best professionals — and they are in short supply. Baby boomers are retiring, and Gen X is a smaller generation, so most industries are facing a leadership vacuum as a result. There are only so many Gen X workers to go around; therefore, getting millennial talent in the door can’t happen fast enough. We have the added challenge of being an industry to which millennials aren’t naturally attracted, so recruiting has taken on a much higher priority.

Second, beyond filling seats, millennials tend to be more technically inclined professionals, and we need people in our industry who aren’t afraid of emerging technologies. Many of the jobs we are designing and filling in our industry today did not exist five to 10 years ago and we want to be prepared to fill them with the best and the brightest we can offer. As a service firm, we need to stay progressive and relevant and continue to develop our competitive advantage to offer our clients.

This article originally appeared in Diversity Executive's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.