Onwards and Upwards

Younger Workers

BOK Financial develops key soft skills in younger workers to encourage retention and career growth.

By Stacy Tiger

Like older workers, younger employees greatly value many of the traditional aspects of a high-performing workplace: competitive compensation and benefits, a friendly atmosphere, and the chance to grow and develop. But with their unique circumstances, background, and relative lack of experience, young employees possess different skill sets and tend to approach workplaces with different perspectives compared to their older peers.

According to Bridge, 90 percent of millennials want to grow their careers with their current companies, but research by Ajilon suggests that they are also the most likely to leave their employer if offered better benefits and a clearer career trajectory elsewhere. Consequently, companies should invest in employee growth and development, and lay out an upward career path to encourage a high rate of retention. In this competitive economy with low unemployment, top organizations must realize that they should take steps to keep the best talent, because recruiting new employees often costs more than developing current talent.

Soft SkillsBOK Financial, one of the nation’s largest regional financial institutions, addresses this development and skills issue through its “Accelerated Career Track” (ACT) program. Through a competitive application process, ACT offers opportunities to both newly hired employees just out of college as well as mid-career employees looking to make a change. Participants attend the 18-month program which includes both technical classroom training and rotational business line components. ACT is built around eight core competencies identified by BOK Financial, such as creating a strategic vision and purpose, building relationships, and developing self and others.

ACT staff members have gathered a number of insights about younger employees and shape the training around them. Four have had a large impact.

  1. Strategic and critical thinking skills prove more difficult for younger employees because many lack experiences from which to draw parallels. Sometimes, a lack of critical thinking is apparent when younger employees simply “do as told” without striving to understand how the task fits into the larger vision of the organization. Similarly, the “why” and the purpose behind a project or task is often missed by these young workers. The ACT program works to develop all of these skills by focusing on creating a strategic vision and purpose for each participant.
  1. Younger employees exhibit more bravery than their more experienced counterparts. These employees propose new ideas and suggestions to colleagues, even if they are not their direct supervisors. This boldness can be a valued trait that occasionally requires refining. For this reason, the ACT program includes a lesson on valuing and leveraging inclusion.
  1. A clearly delineated career path remains something younger employees value differently than tenured workers. They have high aspirations for future managerial roles and seek clarity on the potential of their career trajectory. These employees are more open with managers and seek out transparent conversations on future roles they’d like to take on, even if it’s outside the managerial purview. For this reason, the ACT program includes a module that teaches these employees the best approaches toward career and self-development and the most advantageous ways to discuss these issues while remaining respectful of peers and senior colleagues.
  1. Collaboration in the workforce is something younger employees don’t have a lot of experience with. Being an individual contributor and not thinking about the organization as a whole or the value of collaboration across the footprint can be simple and enticing. ACT participants learn to capitalize on the expertise of other team members. Having self-awareness of individual strengths and knowing how to build relationships with collaboration in mind are paramount in making the team—and subsequent results—stronger in the long run.

Differences in how various age groups approach work remains top-of-mind for many companies as the workforce transitions and younger employees assume more leadership roles. These challenges present opportunities for managers. Management should offer valuable resources for learning soft skills to help employees achieve success more efficiently, smooth the interactions between employees and managers, and position the company for future success.


Stacy Tiger is senior vice president and director of talent and organizational development for BOK Financial.

Posted February 12, 2019 in Engaged Workforcein Learning

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