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The Importance of Purpose When Hiring Young Professionals

By Gregory Ceton, CSI, CDT posted 09-11-2018 11:58


When hiring, what you are trying to sell to a new employee must be valuable. Often new hires, even Gen Xers, do not know the history of bonuses, which makes attracting new talent even more difficult. Companies occasionally turn to external consultants to help with hiring, benefits, and succession strategy. What kind of benefits should I include in my package for employees? How can I present value to candidates who would be a good fit? The answer to those questions may not simply be a bigger paycheck.

As a group, the qualifications of Millennials are poised to make them highly sought-after employees in a wide variety of industries. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center has indicated that Millennials are on pace to be the most formally educated generation in America’s history.[1] Taken as a whole, Millennials plan to gain more education as time allows, far outstripping previous generations in that regard, with many having advanced or multiple degrees as well as advanced non-degree skills. In addition to education, information from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) suggests that architects continue to be getting licensed at a younger age than previous generations.

I was fortunate enough to interview Brok Howard, who provides implementation, training and support for an AEC software company based in Norway. (Read part one now) He suggested the AEC industry needs to look beyond its own sector to see who it is really competing with for the attention of Millennials.

As a group, Millennials seek purpose as a driving motivation for their careers. They want to be aware of the effects of their work on their communities and the world, and want to understand why things are being done as much as how to do them. Brok commented: “Millennial architects and contractors need purpose to be central to the work they are doing. Their focus will be not just on life safety, but on how the building affects all those who may encounter or occupy it; not just on meeting minimum code requirements but looking at the rationale behind the code. Sustainability is also key to Millennials. All that innovation is part of the Millennial mindset.”

Brok went on to say that there are many other ways older professionals can learn from this generation, but the first step to doing so is engaging with them as professionals.

Millennials have the capacity to work differently than other generations, which has led to an uptake of agile methodology in professional construction and architecture firms. They also tend to view the competitive nature of the workplace differently than older workers, competing with innovation, but also cooperating more easily in groups. Brok continued, “Millennials do that sort of ‘coopetition’ better than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers and that can lead to impressive results from agilely managed teamwork.”

Mentors and coaches

The two related ways of reaching, leading, training, and giving examples to junior members of the team are mentoring and coaching. “Mentorship is long term and involves developing a relationship, cups of coffee, social events, and the like,” Brok said. “Mentoring someone builds trust if it is consistent, but it is not enough by itself. New professionals also need coaching, which is more job specific, giving real world examples of how to do something. This can be passive, by just letting the learner observe. It can also be done in a group setting with other team members they work with. That tends to work better for younger professionals as it allows for cooperation and reinforcement opportunities that lead to the experience gains and conversations that both teachers and learners want.”

“Perhaps most importantly,” Brok continued, “senior leadership needs to recognize the value of mentorship and coaching and reward employees for being mentors and coaches.”

But there is a downside that can only be cured by the teachers. “The way that boomers communicate and deal with Millennials must change,” said Brok. “Any form of training works better as a conversation than a lecture. The only way to know the challenges the other person is facing is through active listening and a level of empathy between equals.” Millennials and other young professionals are prone to react negatively to communication that places them in a group and assesses their competence, knowledge or behavior based on that presumption alone. Anyone who is coaching needs to learn how to change communication tools and styles, ideally incorporating Millennials in the full process of work decisions and actions. “We are not doing enough showing and sharing by action,” said Brok. “Draw details with those you are mentoring. If you are working with a client and negotiating a design question, allow the learner to simply observe.”

“Though Gen X learned by collaboration and a desire to know how things work, the Millennial approach goes beyond that,” said Brok. “Millennials want the big picture and want to question it. That constant questioning can be felt as badgering by older professionals, but it is central to the generation’s interaction and a common learning method. Perhaps most importantly, an amazing level of innovation becomes available from this sort of questioning.”

In addition to the notion of knowledge sharing being an ethical responsibility, engaging as a teacher enhances your connection with an industry and its new challenges, and can keep older professionals engaged with those who are hip deep in those challenges. Solving problems together is the best way to learn.

What do you think is the best way to learn new skills in your profession? As a community, the more insight we can share, the more we can learn from real life experiences.

[1] Pew Research Center. (2010). Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. Washington, DC. p. 39.