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Bringing Gen Y Aboard for the Long Haul

Integrating the roaming `entitlement generation' into the workplace is often a challenge.

July 10, 2006|Michelle Keller | Times Staff Writer

For graduating college seniors, the job market is, well, awesome, dude: Hiring is up sharply and corporate competition for the class of 2006 is hot.

But for employers, the real challenge isn't getting the freshly minted grads to sign on. It's getting them to stay.

Employers and hiring experts say the younger generation no longer approaches the first job as a nest for the next 10 or five or even three years.

"There's no longer a stigma in changing jobs frequently," said Eileen Kohan, executive director of USC's career center. "It's not unnatural for someone to have several jobs in their first five years out of college."

That revolving door is costly to employers. Every recruit gone after a year or so represents the loss of about 1.5 times the worker's salary for costs associated with recruiting, training and the like, according to Saratoga, a San Jose-based unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers. "The war for talent has shifted," Saratoga director Scott Pollak said. "You still want to recruit, but the new challenge is, how do you keep the best people? Retention is now a big issue."

To understand exactly how the Generation Y thinks, some employers are hiring consultants schooled in the ways of those born between 1978 and 2000, the usual definition of the group.

Companies are implementing training programs, pairing newbies with seasoned veterans and working on integrating their newest hires in hopes of boosting retention.

Generation Y, the children of baby boomers and Gen-Xers, is often described as the entitlement generation.

Gen-Yers arrive at their first jobs with high expectations. After driving hard to be accepted to top schools and pumping up their resumes with myriad extracurricular activities and internships, many young grads expect a lush ride in the corporate world.

But while the job market may have changed, corporate culture hasn't.

Many entry-level positions still require making copies, fact-checking reports and taking the blame when the manager messes up. In industries such as Hollywood, no matter how many calculus classes the wunderkind has taken, the new kid on the block will still be asked to get coffee.

And new hires may not be ready for that kind of sacrifice.

Generation Y "tends to want, and want it now," said Carol Hacker, president of Carol A. Hacker & Associates in Alpharetta, Ga., a corporate consulting and seminar company.

"They don't want to take the time that it takes to work up. They expect that that's going to happen pretty quickly," she added.

Since he graduated from Stanford University in 2004 with a degree in human biology, Paul O'Leary's career path has been consistently inconsistent. At the age of 25, he's on job No. 5. O'Leary went to Japan for a stint as a gymnastics coach, worked as a salesman for Bose Corp. and held jobs at Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

"I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to get out of my career," O'Leary said. "When it gets to the point where the management or the company no longer seems in line with what I have in mind, I start looking elsewhere."

O'Leary finally found a good fit at LowerMyBills.com, a Santa Monica outfit that allows consumers to compare rates on monthly bills online.

An account manager at LowerMyBills.com, the Los Angeles resident was impressed that his supervisor asked about his career goals.

Also, O'Leary said he was looking for a company that was willing to take a chance on a relatively recent grad with little experience but strong motivation.

"I wanted a position with responsibility, and it took me a little while to find the company that was willing to give that to me," O'Leary said.

Introducing new hires to the wide array of jobs available within a company is how Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has dealt with young people who aren't quite ready to commit to one career path.

The New York company offers a one-year rotational program, giving young grads a chance to sample what the company has to offer before settling into a permanent role, said Trish Hamilton, Ogilvy's human resource manager.

Vital to the program's success is constant evaluation and personal development, Hamilton said.

"I work very closely with each associate, sitting down with them every two months and guiding them through their career," she said.

Consistently checking in with young workers is one of the most important ways managers can foster a good working relationship with Gen-Yers, said Bruce Tulgan, the founder of RainmakerThinking Inc., a management consulting company based in New Haven, Conn.

"The key is having an ongoing dialogue," he said. Tulgan recommends "spelling out expectations every step of the way and being honest with folks about how they're doing."

With young workers just stepping out of the classroom, the more specific the expectations, the better people respond, said Carol Cincotta, senior vice president and human resources director at New York-based Ketchum, an international public relations agency.

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