Friday, September 5, 2014

Millennials and the Changing Work Environment

By Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate.

As economic development professionals, our tools for attracting and retaining the best and brightest young professionals tend to be strongest at the community level. Whether it is downtown revitalization, developing a young professional networking organization within your chamber, or actively reaching out to high school or college graduates from your region, are all extremely important activities for ensuring businesses have an adequate supply of talent as their workforce ages and, consequently, retires. Yet a recent article in the Chamber Executive’s Summer 2014 issue, written by Josh Dukelow, V.P. of Public Policy and Leadership, at the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Industry (located in Appleton, Wisconsin for the curious) highlights an important, and arguably overlooked by the profession, part of talent attraction and retention: it’s not just about the community, companies need to reform their business operations internally too.

Within the article, three primary trends are singled out that are impacting millennials decisions on where to live and where to work. Perhaps the most obvious, or rather most well-known, is location. Championed by the likes of Richard Florida, millennials are choosing authentic communities that offer the experiences and opportunities they desire first, and foremost. After their community is selected, it is then that they start looking for employment. Location, and place-based economic development, is where we economic development professionals feel we can have the most impact. Whether it is downtown redevelopment and revitalization, building arts incubators, or promoting tactical urbanism (just to name a few), economic development professionals, along with other public and private partners, can drastically transform the built environment into an authentic community attractive to tomorrow’s workforce.

Josh highlights two other millennial workplace trends that are just as important: the untethered desk and flexible schedules. With the advent of mobile technology, millennials are increasingly choosing to work out of the office, selecting coffee shops or co-working spaces over a cubicle. But it is just not a work-from-anywhere attitude that drives millennials; it’s a work-when-ever attitude as well. Whether it is going to mid-day yoga classes or early evening happy hours, Josh points out that millennial workers are willing to work at any hour of the day so long as it can fit within their lifestyle. This doesn’t mean they are less productive, or less dedicated to work, they just don’t want to do the typical nine-to-five. These two trends are solely influenced by individual company practices, granted we can still assist in ensuring they have a wide selection of coffee shops and co-working spaces to go to.

It wasn’t until a recent visit to the Tulsa region, for a community input session that made me realize that, why yes, we can motivate companies to change their internal business practices. I was facilitating a focus group of aerospace professionals; the topic of discussion was workforce. One of the participants casually mentioned that leaders from TYPros, Tulsa’s young professional organization, spoke at their company about the changing workplace demands of young professionals. Instead of focusing solely on what the community must do to attract young professionals for their business, the interaction identified what complementary practices the business itself could do to attract tomorrow’s talent. Honestly, the thought, which seems so simple, had never occurred to me. So, while we are busy transforming downtown areas, ensuring residential neighborhoods have quality schools and diverse building stock, and all those other place-based actions that will prepare a community to be competitive in tomorrow’s highly competitive talent environment, let’s also ensure that local businesses are prepared to compete for millennial talent. While we can’t transform their practices directly, engender change through open dialogue between our community’s young professionals and businesses.