Scholarly Advice

Retaining Millennials

An organization shares its strategic approaches to attracting recent college graduates.

By Julie Palmer and Claire Romaine

With the unemployment rate below 4 percent, competition for top talent is tougher than ever. However, waves of new talent are about to enter the workforce as the collegiate class of 2019 graduates across the country. Organizations must capitalize on the momentary influx and adjust both their recruitment strategies and benefits programs to appeal to the graduating demographic. When it comes to attracting and retaining young talent, there are a few key factors for HR professionals to consider.

Familiarity breeds opportunity. This is why maintaining a presence on college campuses in an organization’s strongest recruiting locations is important. This can take on a variety of forms, including participating in school-wide career fairs and having employee ambassadors give presentations to students in programs that align to talent gaps. Building strong relationships with the administrators and professors is helpful as well, as these are the individuals who will be providing guidance and recommendations to the students looking for jobs and careers after graduation.

Unique benefits offerings. Once students have organizational awareness, the next step to successful recruitment and retention is creating and maintaining programs and benefits that meet their needs. One prominent consideration for recent graduates deciding where to work is whether an organization offers student loan repayment programs. According to a recent article in Forbes, student debt is at its highest point ever. In fact, recent grads have a whopping collective debt of $1.5 trillion, so offering assistance to graduates is a big draw. For example, Suffolk, a national construction management firm, recently launched a student loan repayment program where eligible employees receive monthly contributions toward outstanding student loans. This not only helps reduce the debt stress felt by employees, but also helps them focus on long-term career growth rather than their financial burden.

Rotational training programs. While the environment is competitive, not all recent graduates have a clear concept of their skillset or passions—even less so on how to apply both of these to a career. To solve for this, organizations should consider rotational training for newly hired recent graduates, such as Suffolk’s “Career Start” program. These programs should be devised in such a way that they allow employees to experience all the main operational areas of an organization over a set time period. This will give participants an opportunity to gain valuable experience and will also teach them the importance of many business functions, creating a culture of understanding and respect across departments. One of the most important outcomes of a rotational program is giving employees a chance to discover where their skills and interests intersect, which then helps them discover their best suited career opportunity.

While rotational programs allow new graduates to learn the ropes, other L&D initiatives can help as well. A recent Gallup report found that 87 percent of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job. This, coupled with the fact that only 36 percent and 29 percent of millennials and Generation Zers, respectively, feel they have the skills and knowledge they need to thrive, makes ongoing professional development programs and opportunities paramount.

HR leaders should consider these additional tools to both keep their current team engaged and recruit new talent:

  • Industry-specific professional development. This programming should include ongoing programs and coursework that are relevant to the industry and meant to help employees learn and perfect their trade.
  • Non-industry specific skills training. These trainings should focus on other skills that help create a more well-rounded, versatile, and valuable workforce. These can range from communication and business writing to first aid training in order to enhance employees’ skills as professionals and keep them engaged.
  • Leadership development programs. These initiatives should be available to individuals who demonstrate a proficiency and desire to lead in order to help strengthen their skills and form the organization’s next generation of leaders.

On a more fundamental level beyond recruitment tactics and benefit programs, retaining top talent comes down to an organization’s DNA. According to The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, 83 percent of millennials believe a business’ success should be about more than just finances. This younger cohort looks for a set of balanced objectives, including a positive impact on society and the environment, and innovative idea creation.

  • Giving back. It’s important to provide ways for employees, in collaboration with the company, to give back to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways, and organizations should set up programs that work for them and their employees. For example, one option is to create an ongoing calendar of volunteer and donation events that employees can choose to take part in. These should be offered across all office locations and should include a wide variety of volunteer activities so that everyone can participate. A unique option that Suffolk offers is a program called the “Giving Circle.” This is an employee-driven non-profit dedicated to supporting the Suffolk family and “extended family” in times of great need.
  • Creating a collaborative culture. Companies must strive to foster a collaborative and innovative culture—one that rewards teamwork and creativity, all while utilizing and developing the latest technology. An organization doesn’t have to be a start-up to prioritize technology and innovation. Any business with a vision, dedication, and the right people can become an industry disruptor. When it comes to not only recruiting but retaining the top in young talent, it’s important that companies offer interesting projects to work on and that they continually look to what is new and evolving with technology.

It is a tough time for many companies to be hiring, but new graduates are hitting the job market and many will be the next generation of innovators and leaders. Companies would be wise to consider recruitment tactics that focus on new graduates. The workforce is changing, as are its needs and wants. To remain successful, organizations must follow suit to ensure they’re able to continue to draw in top talent.


Julie Palmer is director of people and culture for Suffolk and Claire Romaine is SmartLab director for Suffolk.

Posted June 18, 2019 in Engaged Workforcein Talent Retention

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