…is preparing to fail. – John Wooden, legendary NBA player and UCLA Head Coach
We constantly see media coverage discussing the business world’s negative perceptions of younger workers. At times it seems like an unfair piling on for a generation that’s been bombarded with negative labels like entitled, unwilling to pay their dues, and unprepared. The good news is that much of the coverage is now discussing the reasons why such labels persist based on research, analysis and facts rather than a common starting point of “…when I was starting out…”
In a study released last Tuesday by Bentley University and KRC Research, which examined the preparedness of Millennial workers by surveying over 3,000 business decision-makers, corporate recruiters, young workers, students, parents and higher education influentials, 51% of business professionals who participated stated that their companies tend not to invest in young workers’ development because of the perception that they are likely to leave the job soon and aren’t worth the investment. This is a startling example of one of the perceptions perpetuating negative views of Millennial workers: they are short-timers. It’s a real Catch-22 – it’s hard for a business to invest in the skill development of employees they believe to be short-timers. Where’s the ROI in that investment? But thinking through to the next question, “what can we do to increase the likelihood of retaining this cohort?” is occurring more and more. Orlando Barone, from the Wharton School of Business, is quoted in the study as believing that Millennials “perceive themselves as more loyal to their values than to a particular company…” And this gets to the heart of the Millennials vs. the Business World grudge match that many observe.
If, as in great workplaces all over the world, an organization’s values were in sync with the values of all of its employees, investment in skill development would be a no brainer because it would be ensuring the longer tenure of its entire workforce – not just its Millennials. It would be an investment in the bottom line as measured by lower turnover costs, lower talent acquisition costs, greater innovation and higher productivity.
The Bentley study shows clearly that business shares the accountability for lower retention of Millennials. However, this is not to say that everything we hear about young workers is unfounded. After all, the consensus from Bentley University’s study (as observed by both business professionals and Millennials themselves), is that Millennial workers are less prepared than other generations to enter the workforce. However, this unpreparedness is not necessarily due to a broad lack of passion, feeling of entitlement, or poor work ethic of the younger generation as many assume. This quote from the study sums up the idea well: “Despite the view of Millennials as the “it’s not my fault” generation, nearly four in ten grade their own personal preparedness as a “C” or lower”. It comes down to a mutual shouldering of blame for why young workers are unprepared. While recent college graduates admit that unpreparedness is a problem among their own cohort, 49% of higher education influentials give colleges and universities a “C” or lower on how well they are preparing recent college graduates for their first jobs and 51% of business decision-makers give the business community a “C” or lower on how well they are preparing students for their first jobs. So everyone involved believes that many young people entering the economy for the first time are unprepared for success and unprepared to make a contribution.
A surprising outcome of this study is that 35% of business leaders give recent college graduates that they have hired a “C” or lower in being prepared for the job. Businesses are clearly not be connecting the dots as the study also reveals that 51% of business professionals are not investing in the development of young workers. Knowingly (one would assume) hiring an unprepared young worker and then knowingly (again) not investing in their development seems like missing the obvious to me. And pretty simple to solve: if you hire unprepared workers you have to be prepared to provide opportunities to ensure their preparedness or they will be gone in the business equivalent of sixty seconds.
The bottom line is this: we must hop off the label bandwagon and jump on the training train. Millennials are faced with a different set of challenges than earlier generations as they enter the workforce, but current judgments of their work ethic or values are shortsighted and misinformed bases for non-investment in their development once they arrive in our organizations. It’s long past time for all stakeholders (higher education influential, business leaders and decision makers, students and their parents) to remedy the problem of unpreparedness vs. being a catalyst for it. Business leaders in particular can step up and begin to deliver development programs that will result in young employees who are more productive and more aligned. And if you’re worried about young workers “jumping ship” remind yourself that investment in their development could be just what they’re looking for to stick with you for the long haul.