Fishing for Millennials

AAsk Tim Lawrence about the value of Millennials in the workplace, and he won’t flinch when talking about the positive collective attributes they bring to the table. A workforce-development expert and the executive director of SkillsUSA, Lawrence has spent the past 15 years of his career overseeing an organization that, since 1965, has served teachers, and high school and college students preparing for careers in technical, skilled and service occupations.

He’ll also tell you about the four employees – with more than 155 years of collective service – who left SkillsUSA last year, and the fact that three of those four were replaced by Millennials. So Lawrence knows first hand the differences between this demographic and his own Baby Boomer classification.

“[Millennials] are very creative,” he says. “They want to be challenged. But they also want to have a schedule that fits their personal lives. [As Baby Boomers,] we live to work, we work long hours, will stay [on the job] as long as it takes and we work hard – maybe not as smart as we should. Where we live to work, they work to live. They want to work so they can support their personal lives, family lives, their children and their interests.”

With the presence of Millennials, defined as the population segment aged 18-34 in 2015, approaching ubiquitous status when it comes to the job market, many managers and human resources personnel regard incorporating Millennials into a company’s hiring plans as crucial to a company’s success.

This is underscored by the fact that, according to Pew Research Center’s 2015 analysis of population estimates released by the United States Census Bureau, Millennials now have overtaken Baby Boomers (the population aged 51-69 in 2015) as America’s largest generation.

While it’s a no-brainer to say that Millennials bring many positive traits to any company, including print shops, incorporating this segment of the population into any workplace culture requires some flexibility on the part of the company, as well as an emphasis placed on certain characteristics they may find attractive.

Part of something bigger

Every generation has had its own wants and needs, and Millennials are no different. But the printing industry has had difficulty attracting younger workers because of the digital trickle-down effect starting at technical institutions, says Paul Cavanaugh, service skill development manager for Heidelberg USA Inc.

“The printing industry has a tough road to hoe concerning the younger generation, especially when it comes to looking for big press operators,” Cavanaugh says. “This is the area I see great difficulty as technical colleges no longer own conventional printing machines; they are all going digital. This is stopping the progression from starting out running a small press and moving to larger equipment.”

This development makes it particularly taxing for recruiters or hiring managers who, like Cavanaugh, go directly to technical colleges and high schools to recruit talent. In the wake of such developments, print shops – and companies in general – have to take a different tack when fishing for Millennials.

“The printing industry has a tough road to hoe concerning the younger generation, especially when it comes to looking for big press operators.”
– Paul Cavanaugh, Service Skill Development Manager, Heidelberg USA Inc.

That methodology involves delving into the Millennial mindset and appealing to their values, some of which include being future-minded and part of something bigger than themselves, says Courtney Miller, a Millennial and program manager at SkillsUSA. Miller was a student national officer for the organization and served as the state director for Florida last year before joining the national team to manage its training program.

To underscore that point, Lawrence recalls distributing a nationwide survey in which he asked Millennials two distinct questions: “What brings you joy?” and “What keeps you up at night?” The consensus No. 1 answers to both questions, respectively, were “Providing service for someone else,” and “Will I leave the world a better place?” As such, Lawrence says implementing a day of service into a company’s culture could increase its attractiveness to Millennials.

Nancy Ott, VP of human resources for Quad Graphics, says the company accentuates the ability to develop universally marketable career skills to all prospective employees, Millennial or otherwise. Quad can do this because it touts itself as not just a printer, but a marketing services provider offering multiple online and offline communications channels through which its clients can engage their customers.

“There are endless opportunities to engage at our company and in our industry,” Ott says. “When employees feel they are part of a company that invests in their personal and professional development, they are more likely to stay.”

“When employees feel they are part of a company that invests in their personal and professional development, they are more likely to stay.”
– Nancy Ott, VP of Human Resources, Quad Graphics

Naturally, emphasizing the change to be part of something bigger extends beyond the company. As such, Rebecca Robertson, who works in human resources for LSC Communications, a traditional and digital print, print-related services and office products provider for publishers, merchandisers and retailers, says it encourages local involvement as part of its company culture. “We are encouraging individual locations to support projects and programs that are important to their employees and contribute to the overall well-being of their local communities,” she says.

The value of flexibility

Unlike their Baby Boomer counterparts who tend to value defined, structured settings, Millennials crave flexibility in the workplace, regardless of whether it’s applied to work settings, attire or job description. Robertson says LSC Communications has implemented flexible work schedules to include work-from-home opportunities, where practical.

The company also recently revised its dress code to encourage employees to wear what makes them comfortable at work, and continues to think outside the box with regard to job responsibilities and outside projects.

“We are attempting to expand our horizons and think globally, sharing best practices and resources and challenging traditional roles by giving employees opportunities to work across the company and be involved with projects outside of their normal job descriptions,” Robertson says.

The coveted flexibility aspect also can be used to create mobility between roles, which helps widen career paths – something Millennials value immensely. “Offering employees mobility within our own company makes us stronger,” Ott says. “It knocks down the silos that can naturally arise within an organization. Employees get to know each other and the different roles within the company very well.”

The road to implementation

Opinions vary on how to change a company’s culture to appeal to Millennials. Cavanaugh says it may be best to delegate young-talent acquisition to one person, something that’s not possible for all companies.

Mike Morrow, managing director of TRANSEARCH International, says culture change should happen quickly, with the expectation that lasting effects will take some time to come to fruition. “Changing a company’s culture is like turning a battleship – it doesn’t happen instantly,” he says. “But shifting the culture does require a strategic approach and a concerted effort.”

Strategies can include simple efforts, such as upgrading the careers page on the company website to leverage more multimedia and story-driven content. And if that approach works, you can solicit ideas from applicants and invite new hires to brainstorming sessions in efforts to refine your approach, Morrow says.

Social media also is an attractive medium for Millennials, so if your company isn’t active in that realm, doing so would be apropos. Cavanaugh says he reaches out to prospective employees via social media, in addition to developing relationships with technical schools. Robertson says LSC Communications encourages the use of chat boards and forums to discuss work-related topics and projects.

“[Millennials] are very creative. They want to be challenged. But they also want to have a schedule that fits their personal lives.”
– Tim Lawrence, Executive Director, SkillsUSA

“We continue to leverage technology and view our systems and infrastructure through the lens of applying social-media concepts,” she says.

Morrow says social media may be the best way for commercial printers to shift perceptions and surmount the initial challenge of wooing Millennials, as it allows them to present ways they are changing to become more friendly and relevant to this important generation.

“Commercial printing, among many other industries, is facing a pivotal challenge to integrate digital services into their offerings,” Morrow says. “Tell that story to Millennials. Present the exciting aspects of the challenge ahead, and the enticing prospects of how they could help change the industry with your firm.”