June 20, 2014

What Millennials and Employers Can Do to Prepare Young Talent for the Workplace

“Overall, we see a lot of negative press about millennials, this perception that they have no drive, and they’re not going to be able to contribute anything, and management is going to have to spend massive amounts of time with them because they’re so needy and they need all this feedback,” says Rose Ernst, the national director of Genesis10’s G10 Associates Program. “We’re trying to counter the negative image that millennials have in the workplace at the moment.”

Consulting and talent management services firm Genesis10 started the G10 Associate’s Program, a national workforce development program for recent college graduates, after CEO Harley Lippman and his team took a look at the sobering statistics regarding employment for recent college graduates. In 2000, 41 percent of recent college graduates were either unemployed or underemployed. That number has only risen since then, hitting 53.6 percent in 2012, according to the Atlantic. “We’re an IT and business consulting company with a workforce development arm to us, and our CEO [Lippman] and his team looked at that [statistic] and said, ‘There must be something we can do to help address this issue,’” Ernst explains.

With so many millennials facing long periods of joblessness after graduating, they often end up taking low-paying part-time jobs that don’t make use of the degrees they hold, positions like waiting tables or working in low-level retail jobs. Meanwhile, Lippman and the team at Genesis10 saw that many employers were interested in bringing these grads onboard — they just weren’t sure how to. “Our clients love the next generation of talent, but I think there’s some challenges bringing them onboard,” says Ernst. “We help with that.”

One of the ways Genesis10 helps is through the aforementioned G10 Associates Program, whereby Genesis10 recruits, trains, and mentors recent college graduates to prepare them for the workplace. Genesis10 places these graduates with clients on a right-to-hire basis, with the intention of helping young talent land full-time, long-term employment with the client.

So far, Ernst says, the G10 Associates Program has contradicted the popular negative perceptions many people have about millennials in the workforce. “They’re smart. They’re technology savvy. They’re very keen to prove themselves. They’ll work hard,” she says. “There’s a perception of them sitting with their feet up on the desk looking at Facebook all day. It’s not right. They do look at Facebook, but they work really hard. When there’s work to be done, they’re heads-down; they’re really into it.”

According to Ernst, the G10 Associates Program often leads to permanent employment for the recent grads it brings aboard: “We’ve looked at results in our program, and within the last 12 months, over half of the people we’ve place in one organization succeeded their managers’ expectations in the first 90 days, in terms of what they were able to contribute to that organization,” she says.

“[Millennials] want to show you what they’ve got. We need to stop giving them such a hard time about the fact that they’re different — I mean, what generation was not different at the time that they came into the workforce?” Ernst says. “We’d like companies to just be a little bit more open-minded about their capabilities … what makes a great worker might be a little different than they might think.”

Though Genesis10 is doing great things with the Associates Program, one has to wonder — how did we get to this point? Why are recent college grads stuck with such terrible job prospects? Why are even the companies that want to hire these grads hesitant to do so?

The Fall — and Rise — of Mentoring Programs

According to Tara Wyborny, the G10 Associates Program’s recruiting lead, the dire hiring prospects for young grads can be traced, in part, back to the Great Recession. “In 2008, 2009, 2010, most companies that had college hire programs pretty much just stopped them during the recession. So they weren’t accustomed to the actual hiring of graduates anymore and started having to play catch-up,” says Wyborny, who’s worked for six years as a college recruiter. “So around 2011, 2012, a lot of those programs did slowly start to come back online, but they had not formed the relationships, and the managers and leadership for those organizations were no longer attuned with the graduates coming out of school. They weren’t used to not only interviewing them, but they certainly weren’t ready to do the training, the mentoring, and that kind of care and training of them.”

“Or, [those programs] weren’t even there anymore,” Ernst adds. “[Staff] had been laid off, because in the recession they were forced to cut back on total numbers of staffing, and HR and training got hit hard.”

Combine a company’s lack of training programs with the millennials’ thirst for training and mentoring, and we find ourselves in a situation wherein hiring young, inexperienced college grads becomes difficult and risky. As Wyborny explains, “Once companies started to run really lean — where people were no longer doing one defined job, but they were kind of becoming jacks of all trades — they no longer had the bandwidth to be taking on junior talent, and they were just kind of going through traditional channels of bringing on more senior level employees, because that way they didn’t have to train them.”

Wyborny says companies could get away with this because the recession had created a huge pool of surplus talent. Companies didn’t need millennials — there were highly experienced job seekers out there who needed no coaching. “But that’s quickly becoming a very different employment landscape, and I think employers are starting to realize they need to play catch-up from the years of not bringing in this level of talent,” Wyborny says.

As millennials arrive in greater numbers to the workforce and baby boomers age out, companies will have no choice but to find ways to bring on millennials. Gen Y-ers already make up 34 percent of the total U.S. workforce, and, by 2020, they’ll make up almost half. Non-millennial options are, to put it simply, running thin.

Millennials don’t just want training — they need it. They may be the most highly-educated generation to date, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve experienced what it means to be part of the workforce. “Being in the workforce — being in a corporate environment — is different than being in college, and colleges just can’t provide the experience,” Ernst says.

Being a college student is drastically different than being a corporate employee in significant ways. While employees and students alike have to maintain similar levels of productivity and responsibility, the college environment is not a proper mimic of the workplace. As such, students often don’t learn how to deal with the specific challenges of being an employee. “I can’t go around being a disruptor in a college library, right?” Ernst says. “[Students] don’t get used to some of the disruptions that are going to happen to you in the workplace.”

“I think overall it’s just a case where they can’t learn to be in the corporate workforce until they’re in the corporate workforce,” Ernst says. “Which is why things like internships and our program are so popular.”

Millennials and Employers: Working Together to Help Each Other

While the employment deck may be stacked against recent grads right now, Wyborny maintains that there are plenty of steps both employers and millennials themselves can take to prepare the new generation of talent.

“Companies need to provide training,” Wyborny says. “That’s like the biggest gap. You poll millennials in their first three years of work, and you see they just aren’t receiving any training.”

According to Wyborny, millennials who are new to the workplace, need the chance to develop their skills in a variety of areas. But many companies don’t offer these opportunities: “[Millennials] are often kind of pigeonholed into individual contributor roles, which are great and they need to put in their time there, but unfortunately companies have not done a good job … to provide them opportunities to develop their skill sets, challenge their skill sets, and ultimately be allowed to make some mistakes and learn from those mistakes, so that they can improve their skill sets and ultimately move up the ladder within corporate America,” says Wyborny.

Wyborny says that the biggest challenges Genesis10’s clients see is that they are not providing the enriching training experiences that millennials crave. “The companies are still pretty lean,” she says. “Those training and mentoring components have been kind of axed over the last few years.”

But these training and mentoring opportunities are important to millennials, who have a heretofore unseen level of dedication to their personal development. They’re eager to advance in the ranks. They want the opportunity to challenge and better themselves. That’s why training and mentorship are such huge components of the G10 Associates Program: if companies can’t provide millennials with the opportunities to grow, Genesis10 wants to step in and right that wrong.

This is not to say that young talent needs to sit around and twiddle its thumbs while companies get on the ball. Rather, Wyborny says, there’s plenty that millennials can do to help prepare themselves. Internships are ideal, but, as Wyborny points out, internship programs have suffered since the recession in the same way that training and mentoring programs have. Millennials, then, should be taking advantage of the resources that their universities offer them.

“They should look on campus for ways to develop and challenge their leadership skills through on-campus groups,” Wyborny says. “They need to be participating in clubs and organizations where they can be part of building projects, organizing events, or developing written communication — such as writing brochures, and fliers, and memos — so that they can simulate that corporate environment and start building a resumé.”

If millennials don’t have the opportunity to prove their skills through internships, then they need to get creative and turn their collegiate experiences into resumé material.

Wyborny also points out that students often fail to utilize their school’s career services center, which offers a wealth of resources. “Not only doing interview prep and mock interviews, but employer information sessions are huge,” Wyborny says. “Employers come to campus all the time just to tell you about their organization, and I think a lot of new college grads have absolutely no idea what jobs exist in the market, or what their skills can get them in terms of a salary or future growth potential.”

Ultimately, Wyborny says, there’s often a disconnect between students and the job market. “They get a degree in finance and they think, ‘Well, I’m going to be a finance analyst,’” Wyborny says. “They don’t realize that there’s probably 40 other careers out there that could be a great fit. And utilizing career services is a great way for them to learn a lot. There’s just a ton out there they can do, and you’re not limited to two job titles.”

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Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of Recruiter.com.