Satisfying a New Generation

Faced with Today's Challenges of Aging Infrastructure, Renewable Energy and smart grid deployment, it is now more important than ever for our industry

Faced with Today's Challenges of Aging Infrastructure, Renewable Energy and smart grid deployment, it is now more important than ever for our industry to find committed young engineers, especially as an older generation enters retirement in record numbers. So, how do you attract the “millennial generation” during these lean economic times when big starting salaries are not an option?

First, find out what items — other than salary or location — are on their lists. Each generation's values are different. Items at the top of a baby boomer's priority list may not be at the top of a millennial's. In addition to the world around them, priorities of one generation are also influenced by their parents' successes and regrets.

Many baby boomers were drawn to the long history of job security, health benefits and generous pensions that the utility industry boasts. These attributes took top priority, because they were raised by parents who survived the Great Depression. They also wanted to be engineers because of the acclaim and prestige they received during the Space Race. As a result, utilities had no problem expanding their workforce in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

However, these attributes are no longer effective in attracting or retaining young professionals. Today, it is hard to see prestige in working in a cubical for 30 years, and after seeing historically secure companies like banks and auto makers fall apart, a good track record just isn't enough.

Plus, the combination of an uncertain economy and a hopeful power-delivery industry is a reason to keep an eye out for opportunities with other companies. So, if financial security and prestige are such a hard sell, what other attributes are millennials looking for instead?

The millennial generation has experienced a few historical events and social values: double-income families, skyrocketing divorce rates, dot com billionaires, the current economic crisis and the rise of many social issues including the environment, AIDS and poverty. From their parents, they learned that a big salary isn't the only ingredient to happiness and security. sInstead, they value growth opportunities, rewarding careers and personal time.

Young professionals are unwilling to become pigeonholed to the same job for an entire career. Instead they want to pursue challenging and high-profile opportunities. They are having families later in life and want to get ahead now, because they're competitive and recognize the best way to secure a future is to make yourself valuable.

Attractive companies will offer training and tuition programs, challenging work assignments and well-defined career paths that are tied to performance not tenure. Young professionals often want promotions faster than can be provided, but many may be satisfied just knowing that a path exists and that their employer genuinely cares about their progress and is willing to invest in their futures.

Millennials also are relationship driven and want more interaction than past generations. They look for any opportunity to showcase their talents outside of the cubical. Assign young professionals leading roles in a project task or invite them to site trips. Provide more opportunities to interact with management, fellow employees and customers.

Today's millennials are interested in impacting the world and those foreign to our industry view utilities as an environmentally evil necessity. Show your recruits that they can have a hand in reducing our carbon footprint by delivering renewable energy to your customers.

Younger generations also tend to take electricity for granted. Reminding them of the importance of electric reliability to daily life will give them a sense of stewardship to the world.

Young people also want to have an impact in the technological development of an industry. Too many know all about the latest cell phones and video games but haven't heard of anything from the power industry. Remind them that our industry evolves, too, and they can expect to see the development of smart grid technologies, renewable power sources and cyber security. Explain how our nation's leaders consider these technology improvements a priority to help improve our infrastructure, solve the energy crisis and lead us out of the recession.

Having grown up with both parents working, millennials understand the value of personal time. While they are willing to work extra when required, acknowledge and reward their extra effort. Do not treat them like their personal time is less important than you own.

This economy requires everyone to spend cautiously, and it becomes a challenge to invest in your company's future. Focusing on what the new generation is looking for beyond salary will enable you to secure tomorrow's workforce.


Biren Patel (bpatel@burnsmcd.com) is an electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell. He earned a BSEE degree from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2005.

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