How Companies Can Retain Millennials and Gain a Competitive Advantage

Ben Nesvig

Recent surveys show that millennials are unprepared for the workforce after graduating college and they change jobs more frequently than their parents. While there are many factors that influence job changes, I see a strong correlation between being unprepared for the workforce and changing jobs more frequently.

A scenario:

A college graduate starts off his first job and is suddenly aware of his inabilities and knowledge gaps. If he stays at the job long enough, he might slowly piece things together, especially with the help of a mentor or a corporate training program, but the temptation arises to give in to the feeling that "I don’t feel like a good fit for this job" followed by "maybe I should find something else."

So begins the search for a job the recent graduate hopes he will like, one that fits with his passion.

What makes someone passionate about a job?

Plenty of self-help books, guidance counselors, and friends offer the same advice to someone who is dissatisfied with his or her job: find a job you’re passionate about.

It sounds reasonable, but is it good advice? Reading the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You made me think differently about the topic. The author, Cal Newport, argues that passion usually comes after a skill has been developed, not before.

Do what you love or love what you do?

Perhaps the best advice to give people who aren’t passionate about their jobs is that they first need to learn more about their job, become better at their chosen occupation, and then passion will follow. It’s possible the job still won’t be a good fit, but it is much less likely.

Studies on employee happiness from Amy Wrzesniewski concluded that the strongest predictor of happiness at work related to how many years the person had spent at his or her job. In other words, the more employees get to know their job, the more they fell in love with it.

A solution to the job hopping and frustration millennials experience could be to provide better training and expectations for learning at work.

The New Corporate University

Learning isn’t an event and it doesn’t stop when you’re handed a diploma. Learning is a never-ending process. It’s a journey with no final destination, but the goal of continual improvement. Organizations who want to be effective need to have resources for employees to help them advance on the path to mastering their role in the organization.

How To Encourage Employees To Learn

1. Enable and encourage self-serve learning
Corporate training often gets a bad name because people think of it as something being mandated for compliance or other regulations. Enabling self-serve learning with quality resources will empower learners with the tools to increase their confidence and performance at work.

2. Make Learning Social
A necessary component of learning is feedback. While quizzes and assessments can provide this, someone learning a soft skill, for example, would benefit from feedback from a peer or teacher.

Also, solo learning can be a lonely endeavor. When struggling with different concepts during the learning process, it can be helpful to know that a peer or colleague is learning and engaged in the struggle along with you.

3. Share success stories
Find a few motivated employees who went through the course and get testimonials from them to share with other employees. They key to a persuasive testimonial is for the employee to be honest about their experience.

All learning involves some struggle, challenges, and eventually transformation. Show how the employee changed for the better as a result of the learning. This narrative will connect with potential learners who are frustrated with their jobs while also igniting their motivation to learn and reach a higher the state of proficiency. The testimonial provides them a path and example to follow. This is critical because when we are unsure of what to do in a situation, we often look to the behavior of others for cues. These testimonials will provide positive behavior to emulate.

In a perfect world, college graduates would be workforce ready upon graduation, but that’s just not the case. Instead of complaining and blaming colleges or millennials, organizations should use this as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. With comprehensive and ongoing training for new employees, organizations can develop a stronger and more committed workforce.

As the philosopher Eric Hoffer once said, "A plant needs roots in order to grow. With man it is the other way around: only when he grows does he have roots and feels at home in the world."

Millennials will plant their roots once organizations help them grow.

Ben Nesvig is a learning specialist and marketing strategist at Dashe & Thomson, a corporate training and organizational change consulting firm.