Generational Turnover:  Organizations Adjust to Attract, Retain YPs

Young Professionals (YPs) entering the workforce are bringing about a revolution that is changing how the modern workplace operates.

Every generation experiences the process of bringing talented fledglings into full professional adulthood, but that development process is much different with the millennial generation, the biggest socio-economic disruptors since the baby boomers.

Change is Constant

As these professionals take leadership roles throughout the business ecosystem, they bring with them a sea of change in how work is done. It’s a generational turnover of perspective as profound as it is inevitable.

“Change is going to come and that’s why I think ‘YP’ is actually a scary word for some people,” said Darius Christensen, 32, account executive at Albireo Energy in Omaha and chairman of both the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Young Professionals Council and its YP Summit. “My advice to CEOs is get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Part of what makes the entrance of the millennial workforce so profound is the sheer number of individuals. No generation since post-World War II has as dramatically shaped the marketplace with their buying power as millennials, or reconfigured society’s institutions — business, higher education — with their mastery of technology and seeming imperviousness to risk.

According to, millennial YPs are as ambitious, if not more ambitious, than their predecessors, but more motivated to achieve their dreams on their terms.
Surveys show 35% of millennials plan to retire before age 65, yet more than one in five have changed jobs over the past 12 months and less than 30% currently feel engaged in their work, making them liable to jump ship at any time.

Of those looking to change jobs, more than 60% are considering freelancing versus full-time corporate work where they don’t feel valued or connected.

In past eras, such attitudes were written off as petulant outliers by corporate employers. But the sizeable ranks of millennials — an estimated 56 million currently, expected to grow to represent 75% of the workforce by 2025 — means institutions and companies must adapt their operations to have any hope of attracting and retaining the best and brightest young minds.

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“We see cool things other people are doing in other towns or what other organizations are doing in our own community, and we want to be a part of something like that,” Christensen said, noting such elements don’t have to be sizeable to make a difference.

“Management often assumes YPs want the moon and the stars when overall, YPs just want to be heard. They want to feel that if they’re asking for something that’s reasonable, that everyone can sit down and have a conversation about it. Or, after you’ve listened to what they’re saying and it’s not something you’re willing to do at the drop of a hat, that you’re at least willing to compromise by making a solid plan going forward.”

Develop Talent to Retain Talent

Andy West, senior associate and architect with DLR Group agreed, and said YP development programs must keep all three of these themes in mind to be effective.
“YP development distills down to building a trusting relationship with a shared common purpose, regular meeting times and well-rounded discussion topics beyond work,” he said.

“A healthy connection is one that is reciprocated where the mentor-mentee line is blurred, and impactful learning flows both ways. Another key is allowing YPs to talk about the source of their goals and motivations, the highs and lows of their experiences, and how they’re balancing work with their personal lives.”

Assigning a mentor is good, even essential, but that alone does not guarantee results, West said. The process must include intentional steps to ensure the relationship is a fruitful one on both sides.

“Once goals are established, the responsibility shouldn’t be shouldered by one individual. Rather, mentors and mentees should brainstorm solutions together in real time. That’s when the magic happens,” he said.

“It’s important to understand that mentoring is not just important for each individual’s growth, but also for the company’s growth and beyond as a form of community-building. For YPs, a sense of belonging and empowerment from day one brings results earlier in the mentoring process.”

West also noted YPs want to be acknowledged for their individual strengths and how these lend themselves to the team, rather than be a faceless part of the collective.

Therefore, while certain components must be met with any successful YP development program, the actual delivery of those programs should offer a high degree of flexibility.

“A flexible approach to mentoring — where it can be group-focused, one-on-one or a hybrid — is important,” he said. “While some individuals don’t want one more thing to track or one more program to monitor, others desire a type of framework that can jump start a mentoring relationship or relationships.

“And, remember individuals use mentoring for different outcomes — some are looking to expedite opportunities to build experience and relationships, and some are simply looking to learn more about new programs and tools to assist in their daily roles.”

Michaela Proper, director of operations for planit inc., said YPs today also tend to gravitate to jobs where the impact is bigger than the company balance sheet. Companies that underscore that link, therefore, stand a better chance of retaining these workers long-term.

“Young professionals are looking for a variety of ways to bridge their professional lives with their personal values and missions,” Proper said. “We are fortunate to have opportunities through our events to assist non-profits for a great impact on the community, as well as offer fresh ideas to clients to meet their mission of sustainability or supporting other causes. We encourage our employees to be active in the community, following their individual passions.”

Proper said one common mistake companies often make is painting with too broad a brush, which can lead them to assume what YP employees value. By contrast, planit seeks to discover what makes the individual employees tick when it comes to work satisfaction.

“The best policy is that there is not a one-size-fits-all mentality,” she said. “Young professionals bring a variety of talent and interests to our team, therefore we look for a variety of ways to grow and connect within a company.”

“We take a personal approach to mentoring at planit by spending a great deal of time looking at and evaluating the talents and interests of our individual team members. Our goal is to align our team with roles that best fit their strengths as well as challenge them to expand their knowledge and understanding of the events industry. We partner newer team members with tenured event producers to provide on-the-job training, development and guidance.”

Colleges Take Note

Companies aren’t the only entities refining their approach when it comes to developing YPs to take their place in the corporate world.

Connie Kreikemeier, executive director of Career Studio at Midland University in Fremont, said students in general today have clearer expectations for what they want out of their college experience and if they don’t get it, will take their tuition dollars elsewhere.

“Students are seeking relevant, hands-on learning experiences that connect them in very practical ways to real-world opportunities,” she said. “They want their college education to prepare them with not only knowledge, but the skills to successfully navigate their career.”

Midland’s approach to meeting these demands employs several components. As a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the school stays abreast of what employers desire most. They then use that data as the basis for its DRIVE model that intentionally provides opportunities for all students, regardless of major, to develop their skills in relevant areas.

“Through this curriculum revision, a new career development course was implemented for all sophomore and transfer students,” Kreikemeier said. “This course helps students at a critical time in their college career to explore degree and career options, build foundational resumes and social media profiles, learn how to search and apply for internships and ultimately, create their own career strategy plan to achieve their goals.

“Midland also uses the CliftonStrengths assessment to help students understand their strengths and what comes naturally to them. The DRIVE model and use of CliftonStrengths has helped our students know what employers want and need and how their personal strengths and skills, courses, internships, job experiences and extra-curricular activities are giving them relevant experiences.”

University of Nebraska at Omaha students are also connected to the community through the vast network of relationships the school maintains within businesses and nonprofits in the community.

“Eighty percent of our students have work experience through internships and jobs, and we offer guidance on how to connect those work experiences with what students learn in the classroom,” said Levi Thiele, UNO’s director of career development. “It is not enough to have the skills; students applying for jobs must also be able to articulate how their experiences align with the position requirements.

“Another important skill for post-graduation career success involves relationship management, the ability to connect, network and build and maintain good relationships. Through a variety of networking events and mentoring programs, we prepare our students to thoughtfully build connections and networks.”

Like Midland, UNO’s career services is open to alums who require it as they build their careers.

“Career advancement and leadership resources are particularly useful to our alumni as they progress in their career journeys,” Thiele said. “Many of our UNO alumni also want to give back, and we have found that they are some of the most inspiring and impactful mentors for our current students.”

Reaching the Summit

Perhaps the most visible display of YP development is the Greater Omaha Chambers YP Council and its signature annual event, the YP Summit, scheduled for March 31.

“The goal of the council is to retain, develop and attract YPs. That’s our main goal,” said Christensen, who has been involved with both groups for multiple years.

“From a development point of view, the YP Summit is fantastic because everyone needs to be a little bit better, whether that’s how to ask for a raise, how to email more professionally or knowing your worth on the job. It’s very important to hone those skills as we have a lot of leaders in this community who want to do great things. We give them the tools to do so.”

Christensen said one thing that makes the Chamber’s approach particularly effective is its ability to consistently serve a fundamental purpose while remaining flexible enough to adapt to the changing face of its YP audience.

“Through a big event like the Summit, I think the most important thing is to give people options and make it relevant to today,” he said. “When I first started, our big thing was what does transportation look like? It was a huge issue and still is kind of an issue. Now, five years later, it’s about DEI and understanding how you can be an ally in that space and help your employer get to the place where you want it to be.”

The payoff for addressing such issues in the local workplace has a wider impact for the business community as a whole, Christensen said.

“Local events like a cocktail hour or meeting at a brew pub, that’s never going to change; people like to have a good time and enjoy a fun setting and shaking hands,” he said. “But how do we attract people from Central and Western Nebraska and other places, like Des Moines or Wichita? How do we get YPs there to say, ‘Hey, Omaha’s a dynamic place’? That’s the big challenge.

“I think YPs now, as a generation, we’re very much go-getters. I think we’re very much a generation that sees a space or an opportunity for great things to happen. And if someone gives us the tools or the opportunity to make that happen, we’re going to go make it happen.”