Tips for Retaining Millennials

Kimley-Horn Associates is one of 18 companies on Human Resource Executive®'s exclusive list of Great Companies for Millennials. Based on initiatives used there, the firm's director of human resources shares some ways his company keeps young workers happy and engaged.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008
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Here are some tips for being a great place for millennials to work.

Provide challenges and opportunities quickly.

Allow new graduates to quickly move into responsible positions on projects. The opportunity for new challenges should be matched to the employee's ability and not limited by preconceived notions of how old someone needs to be before they are given "real" responsibility.

Here are some ways to provide challenges and opportunities quickly:

* Encourage face time with senior firm leaders and customers/clients.

* Provide on-the-job training -- people (especially new graduates) learn best by doing.

* Include new grads on project teams, which encourages mentoring and relationship building.

Recognize and reward frequently.

Review new graduates for salary adjustments and promotions more frequently than you do the staff-at-large. In our case, we review new graduates twice a year. This provides several benefits:

* New graduates are able to see progress quickly.

* Enhanced ability to deal with inequities and compression issues that can result from rising starting salaries.

* More frequent evaluations allow performance concerns to be caught early.

Foster relationship and community building.

For most new graduates, the start of a career means their first real experience (personal and professional) outside a school or university community environment. To assist with this transition, consider these and other proactive approaches and programs:


* Establish YP forums (YP = Young professional) that meet regularly. In these forums (typically over lunch), more senior professionals share their knowledge and experience with the group. The meetings also serve as a time to plan for social outings.

* Provide new employees with lunch coupons they can use to take co-workers to lunch for relationship-building, advice and perspective.

* Gather all new graduates for training classes. In addition to the training and integration benefits, attendees are able to develop relationships with peers throughout the firm.

Foster an environment for new graduates to take on increasing responsibilities.

New graduates want to feel like they are learning, growing, and taking on increasing responsibilities. Here are ways to cultivate this environment:

* Continue to add new graduates. Consider "Sarah," a May 2007 graduate. She started work in June 2007 and spent her first year learning the basic skills of her trade. The work she did in her first year was good for training but was also work that needed to be done by someone. She's now ready to take on new responsibilities in new areas. Unfortunately, the work she did in "year one" still needs to be done. Unless a new graduate comes along, Sarah will not be able to move on to new tasks and responsibilities.

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* Encourage new graduates to take on responsibilities outside of their core job. Two examples:

* Campus recruiting at their former university

* Leadership for the office's YP Forum (described above)

Develop and communicate career paths.

New graduates want to know "what's next" and where their efforts can lead. Consider a few ways of developing and communicating potential career path:

* Develop multiple paths that are viable and rewarding. It's important that new graduates know that you recognize that "one size does not fit all" and that they can be successful in different ways.

* Point to existing employees who are examples of individuals who have been successful pursuing the various paths.

* Communicate, communicate, communicate. Use training courses and other means to get the word out.

Barry Barber is director of human resources at Cary, N.C.-based Kimley-Horn and Associates, a consulting firm specializing in civil engineering, transportation, and land planning with more than 2,400 employees in over 60 offices across the nation. The firm routinely hires several hundred new college graduates (with bachelor's and master's degrees) each year.


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