Now is the time to start incorporating a millennial-focused recruitment strategy for the workplace.
2015 represents a milestone in the U.S. labor market. For the first time, millennials (individuals born between 1980 and 2000) will become the majority in the workforce. This is a significant shift for companies that now have to figure out how to most effectively attract, recruit and retain these younger workers — not all of whom are following in their parents’ footsteps when it comes to job selection, company loyalty and opportunity.
Much has been written about the millennials and how they differ from previous generations in their approach to work — and careers in general. Indeed, millennials are often unfairly saddled with the dubious reputation for being entitled, disloyal, self-centered or optimistic go-getters, but it turns out that they’re actually not that different from their older work colleagues. In fact, Chuck Underwood, a pioneering and longtime authority on generations, pointed out that, “Millennials are idealistic; they are demanding; they will insist that their employers are good corporate citizens, environmentally green and ethical. In many ways, they are exactly like the baby boomers and that’s not an accident. Most have boomers for parents, and they absorbed their parents’ values.”1
Underwood’s notion was confirmed in a recent study conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value, where the authors stated that the differences among millennials, Gen X and baby boomer employees have been grossly exaggerated.2 According to the survey findings, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials share similar values, aspirations, attitudes and goals when it comes to work. The survey also found that some of the more common assumptions regarding millennials could actually be incorrect.
FMI has observed similar misconceptions about millennials in the construction industry. In a recent study, FMI surveyed more than 200 millennials in the industry to measure their level of engagement and to explore what this generation of workers is looking for in an employer. Following are preliminary survey statistics3 — some of which dispel widespread millennial stigmas:
- 74% of survey respondents expect to remain more than five years with their company.
- 96% of survey respondents are willing to work beyond what is required of them to help the business succeed.
- 93% of survey respondents feel proud to be part of their company.
- 98% of survey respondents stated that it was important for them to understand their career path and opportunities within their company.
- The following criteria ranked highest for millennials in construction:
- 1) Competitive pay 2) Work-life balance and 3) Personal development.
Based on the above excerpt of findings and additional conversations with industry stakeholders, we have identified the following five key areas that make millennials a force to be reckoned with in the construction industry:
- Loyalty and dedication. The majority of our survey participants want to stay more than five years with their company, as opposed to jumping ship in the near term. Given good opportunities for career advancement, support for education, a collaborative culture, and competitive pay and benefits, this group of workers will go above and beyond to drive organizational success.
- Innovative thinking. In an industry that is changing dramatically through emerging technologies and new delivery systems, millennials welcome the opportunity to provide input and new ideas that promote corporate innovation. As one survey participant stated, “I’m free to be creative and try new things.” Progressive companies like DPR Construction, for example, encourage employees to use a special website to submit ideas for improvements, which can be related to software, tools or company protocols, among other things.
- Tech savvy with a personal touch. It is true that many millennials adopt new technologies and gravitate toward digital media more easily than do their older colleagues. However, when it comes to learning new skills at work, research shows that millennials prioritize face-to-face contact over digital options. FMI’s survey also confirmed that 86% of respondents favored face-to-face feedback rather than a digital setting. This mix of tech savvy, combined with a need for personal interaction, can help companies drive change across multiple generations while infusing the industry with a fresh new perspective.
- Millennials are looking for a healthy work-life blend. This can be difficult to attain in the construction industry, which often requires long hours, remote work or challenging work conditions. However, if employers want to recruit and retain star talent, they will need to reconsider some of their traditional corporate policies and practices and find new ways to create a healthy work-life blend for their employees. For example, offering a paid sabbatical can help give employees a break and a fresh outlook without losing them for good. This will not only help workers across multiple generations, but will also improve the negative image that the industry has suffered for decades.
- Collaboration and communication. According to Underwood, many millennials grew up with parents, teachers and counselors who were their best friends and role models. “They not only need a mentor, but also a buddy. They are excellent team players. They will care about the entire organization, not just their own jobs,” stated Underwood.4 Indeed, the timing is perfect. New virtual design and construction tools and integrated project delivery methods will all require higher levels of collaboration within and among project teams. Having these young people focused on a common purpose, effective processes, excellent communication and solid relationships will help transform the industry over time.
While managers often perceive millennials as entitled, disloyal and lazy, it appears that they really aren’t. As shown in FMI’s recent construction industry survey, millennials are ambitious and eager to make a big impact in their careers early on, which sometimes can be misread as entitlement.
Not unlike other generations that enter the workplace, millennials have new perspectives to share, new ideas about getting things done and new ways of tackling problems. They were literally born with technology in their hands and see it as a critical part of the workplace and their interactions with others. Long thought to be “behind the curve” when it comes to technology adoption, the construction industry desperately needs this new perspective.
This new perspective is critical, because it’s what can push all of us forward (whether we want to be pushed or not). So, rather than focusing on outdated stereotypes, employers in the construction industry should start building comprehensive human capital programs that will benefit workers across all generations. Now is the time to capitalize on each other’s strengths instead of focusing on stigmas.
Sabine Hoover is a senior research consultant with FMI. She can be reached at 303.377.4740 or via email at email@example.com.
1 “The Millennials: Who They Are, And Why They Are a Force to be Reckoned With.” Judy Schriener. ENR. 02/23/2011.
2 “Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths. The real story behind millennials in the workplace.” IBM Institute for Business Value. January 2015.
3 Final results and interpretations will be released in fall 2015.
4 “Millennials Bring New Attitudes.” Luke Abaffy. ENR. 02/23/2011.