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The generation game

The generation game

Robert Kenward provides a guide on recruiting and retaining Millennials, a critical segment of the event talent pool.

Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) were apparently the second-largest age group to leave the workforce during the pandemic. We all know that we need next-generation employees for our businesses to flourish, so how do we attract and retain Millennials?

The first thing to do is to stop calling them Millennials, or Gen Y, or whichever name clumsily pigeonholes nearly two decades of wildly different people into one handy, but lazy and misleading, description.

If you lump people together like this, the next step would be to assume that everyone that is born in that 15-year period wants and needs exactly the same things. They don’t.

The steps

The next step is to listen: to quote the old adage; you have two ears and one mouth and it’s best to use them in that proportion. It’s very common for one generation to look at the next generation, shrug and proclaim, “we just don’t understand them.” Teenagers were the first to get that reaction in the 50s with the advent of  rock ’n’ roll, and every generation since is a mystery to the previous generation. We don’t know what interests them. Our likes and dislikes are not theirs and we are not going to understand unless we listen.

Use active listening: take listening to the next level and really engage with your audience; but understand that you are not going to like what you’re going to hear. You’ll assume that they all want to play Fortnite on their Xbox or go onto TikTok, but you will not know all the answers. (I do promote The Hub on TikTok and Instagram, but I employ a very knowledgeable expert to guide me and tell me how to appeal to this audience.)

Personalisation is key: when it comes to perks and benefits, you cannot assume anything, so you need to take a personalised approach. I realise that an employer can’t offer every employee a vastly different remuneration package, but you could have an array of benefits for them to choose from. I would love to see companies present suitable candidates with a list of perks, then a blank space and a question; “if we were to offer you the role, what perk/ perks would clinch the deal for you?”

Employers may be surprised that the things people want may be easy to arrange and affordable, but you will never know unless you ask.

Look internally: what’s your current demographic like? If you have no one of the next generation currently on your team (and listed on your website) candidates may think that your company is an unsuitable and inappropriate place for them to work.

Define goals and rewards: if you employ somebody with less than five years’ experience, you want them moving onwards, moving upwards or out within 18 months to two years. The next generation seems keen to know that they have a clear career path ahead of them with defined goals leading to actions; not a “do well and we’ll chat about your progression at the end of the
year” approach.

Think about training: if you are older like me, you probably learned those essential softer skills by sitting next to and absorbing the ways of working and communicating from your boss and your peers. So, in this new world of hybrid working, how are you going to ensure that the next generation learns these skills? What sort of communication strategies and community management programmes do you have in place, and how are you going to support junior employees in their home-work life? Not only do they lack experience of the events industry, but they don’t have much experience of working with others either, so how are you going to help with this?

Time and place

Where will you recruit? Look up and look outside of your usual circles and tap into some of the amazing organisations who are already connecting with the next generation of eventprofs, such as Event First Steps, Fast Forward 15 or Elevate. What do you do with your local university? Do you offer internships and work experience to help the next generation gain a foot in the door?

Consider the bigger picture: the next generation cares about the climate, cares about politics, cares about DEI in a way that us more mature workers are only just really waking up to. They are not just focused on the role, they care about the wider spectrum of what your business is achieving too. What are you doing for your locality, your local community, with universities or helping the wider events industry?

I’ve gathered quite a bit of intel over the past few years, from working with multiple universities and some of the organisations who encourage next talent into this industry.

All the above advice ties into the need for the biggest employer mindset shift of the past decade: employers don’t know best anymore, they cannot dictate their terms, or what they want their employees to do. Employers need to understand and listen, because the next generation of job-seekers are not putting up with being told what to do, how to work and what they need from their career.

Quite rightly so.