Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers, Take Over Nation’s Workforce

Employers are looking at ways to ensure they're ready for a workforce that's more diverse, socially minded, tech savvy and creative, and who also want feedback.

by Carly Harrington, Knoxville News-Sentinel / July 6, 2015

(TNS) -- Clayton Homes' campus in Alcoa, Tenn., will take on a New Orleans flair in a few weeks, complete with shrimp gumbo and jazz music.

But the company's themed summer picnic held every year in July will also feature an area for local charities to set up booths. Employees will be encouraged to commit to support one.

"It's very, very well received," said Sharon Kennedy, director of human resources for Clayton, which has more than 1,500 employees — of whom two-thirds are millennials.

"Millennials want to know the company they work for has high integrity and supports the community," she said.

For the first time, millennials, born from 1982-2000, outnumber baby boomers, the Census Bureau reported last week.

At more than 83 million, millennials now exceed the nation's 74 million baby boomers and represent more than one-quarter of the population.

Employers are looking at ways to ensure they're ready for a workforce that's more diverse (44.2 percent are part of a minority race or ethnic group), socially minded, tech savvy and creative, and who also want feedback.

"Money isn't everything to me," said Lorena Hubbard, 32, who found an enjoyable and flexible working environment as the marketing and community director for Lawhorn CPA Group.

"As a mother, I definitely value flexibility, and I want to be in an environment that's fun," she said. "Every day I laugh. I think if people are happy with what they're doing, they're going to stick around and be more productive."

Pyxl President Josh Phillips said it makes sense for his firm to hire people who have grown up through the digital revolution. More than 95 percent of employees at his Knoxville digital marketing firm are millennials.

"It's not a secondary means of communication or way of thinking, it's core to the way millennials live and interact with their world," Phillips said. "In our industry, it helps with staying on the leading edge of trends and movements in the way that the market is operating. It gives us an advantage in shifting more quickly to adapt."

On a broader level, Phillips would argue millennials are "very passionate about the things they care about."

"If you can align what they care about with your business, you can create a great environment where they can be satisfied professionally, while not simply ‘mailing in' their work," he said. "You can create some very exceptional products and work in that type of well-aligned environment."

Stephanie Kit, interim director of the University of Tennessee's Center for Career Development, said there are a lot of employers looking at generational issues and recruiting college students and millennials.

"There are certain companies that have very large entry-level programs, and they're the ones going to hundreds of college campuses to recruit thousands of students," Kit said. "Their recruiting teams stay on trend, and know what technology to use and the importance of their corporate image."

And once they get them on board, they're paying attention to how to retain them.

"They're looking at how do they like to receive feedback; do you involve in them in the company in a different way, or is it important to be involved with the community?" Kit said.

Among the largest recruiters on campus is Enterprise Holdings, the parent of car-rental companies Enterprise, National and Alamo.

This year, the company will hire 8,500 college graduates into its management-training program, with at least two-thirds of them millennials.

"Millennials are hardworking employees who bring creativity, enthusiasm and fresh perspectives to the workplace," said Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise Holdings. "They're used to a more-structured learning and training style. While we haven't changed our management-training program, we have changed our communication style."

The millennials want to reach higher levels within the company, but Artim said they often don't realize all the steps they need to take to get there.

"It's not that they are unwilling to take those steps — because they are actually a very hardworking and goal-oriented generation — it's more that they have grown up in a time where they worked within groups, teams or families to attain their goals," she said.

Millennial Ally Ketron, assistant director at the nonprofit Casa de Sara, said she fell in love with the cause and the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats.

"I think it's important to build all kinds of different skill sets," she said. "We live in a time where you're going to have so many more jobs than our parents ever had during their career life span, so it's good to build those and have experience in lots of different things."

Millennials want opportunities for advancement, professional development, charity work, and, of course, money, but the culture of the company is more important, Kennedy said.

Clayton Homes, which hires from 170-230 new employees a year, recognizes it has to have a different mindset when attracting millennials, by letting them know what a wonderful company it is. And sometimes, Kennedy said, you have to go to them.

"We try to get them attracted and then retained by doing those things, and then we recognize and reward them for the things well done," she said. "There's an energy on this campus. If I can get you to the campus, I can get you to come."

©2015 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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