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Recruiting Gen Y: The importance of Corporate Social Engagement in attracting top young talent

By Shannon Bond on October 10, 2007No Comment

Members of Generation Y are charting their own course. They want to change the world, and they think they can. They are better educated, more affluent, and more ethnically diverse than any other generation. They define “office” as anywhere with Blackberry service and struggle to imagine a world where people or information cannot be reached in 30 seconds or less. They see a job as more than a means to a paycheck; they care about what companies stand for and expect corporate social engagement to be both a visible and accessible part of their employer’s DNA. 

Gen Y wants to be empowered to do well and to do good. Deloitte recently published its 2007 Volunteer IMPACT survey, which reports that Gen Y workers want to work for companies that allow them to incorporate community involvement into their professional development both for personal reasons and for professional ones. Before exploring the implications this important survey has for the business world, however, let us get to know Gen Y a little bit better.

Generation Y, also known as “Millennials” or the “Internet Generation” is commonly defined as the approximately 75 million U.S. residents born between 1977 and 1995. To put 75 million in perspective, the Baby Boomers are about 82 million strong, and there are about 40 million Gen X’ers. Gen Y is a formidable force, and just as their Baby Boomer parents altered the social, political and economic landscape as they grew up, got jobs and now move toward retirement, so will they.

But don’t be fooled, corporate recruiters of the world. Gen Y’ers are not the same as their parents. Since birth, this group has been conditioned to move at 100 mph; theirs were the original “Soccer Moms,” shuttling between playgroups, sports teams and clubs, summer camp and band practice. They didn’t miss a beat after September 11th or Hurricane Katrina; independent fundraising efforts, spring break service trips to New Orleans, and a flood of Gen Y-led social networking websites channeled assistance to those in need just as quickly if not faster than established efforts. Between their fast-paced upbringing and their exposure to a culture in which philanthropy is growing in importance, Gen Y is a new breed, and one with the drive, confidence and skill to become the most socially-focused and entrepreneurial generation to date.

While on the surface these are wonderful and lofty goals, a rise in Gen Y-driven entrepreneurship may be cause for concern for U.S. companies relying on fresh talent to fill the growing number of slots being vacated by retiring Boomers. The pressure is on. If you, corporate recruiter, fail to hire and retain the best and brightest Gen Y talent, they just might develop a product or service better than yours and give your company a run for its money.

Why not make them an offer they can’t refuse? Being the confident, independent, worldly people that they are, they just might refuse it anyway. Working for Corporate America doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as it did five years ago. Gen Y is skeptical of the corporate world and eagerly on the lookout for new, often socially-focused opportunities. Many graduates consider nonprofit work and service trips abroad to be just as valuable to their future careers as a high-paying job at a Fortune 500 firm.

What to do? The Deloitte survey suggests that Gen Y’s appetite for giving back can be satisfied through authentic corporate social engagement.

According to Evan Hochberg, National Director of Community Involvement for Deloitte, and Leah Reynolds, a specialist and national practice leader of Generational Change and Total Rewards Communications, Deloitte Consulting LLP, companies with strong, outward-facing community involvement programs have a leg-up in the ongoing war for Gen Y talent. To investigate this claim, Deloitte’s IMPACT survey questioned 1,000 18-24 year olds about their volunteer practices and preferences, as well as opportunities offered through their employers.

What the survey found is that a gap exists between what Gen Y expects of employers and what employers are delivering in terms of opportunities to get involved with the community. Gen Y recruits want to be empowered not only to climb the corporate ladder, but to make a meaningful difference in their communities along the way. The insight that may prove most useful to companies is that attracting Gen Y employees is as much about what companies do in the community as how they execute and communicate their programs.

First, the “what.” The survey determined that Gen Y is specifically interested in companies that offer skills-based volunteerism. Rather than donating money, or coaching a team, Gen Y feels that they can have the largest impact through donation of knowledge and skills directly to the organization’s management.  “[Gen Y workers] don’t just want a t-shirt and a paintbrush, they want to strengthen the core of [nonprofit] organizations,” says Hochberg.

Next, the “how.” More complex than the “what,” the “how” is where most companies have room for improvement. According to Hochberg and Reynolds, Gen Y is looking for sophistication in their corporate volunteer programs. They want more than a flyer in the break room they are used to doing everything online and expect events to be organized and worthwhile. They want companies to prove volunteering is an important part of the business, meaning paid time off, sabbaticals, and formalized policies. Many even want companies to truly integrate volunteerism into their career development. Seventy percent of survey respondents agree that companies should use volunteering as a professional development tool, and 50% believe volunteering should be considered as part of a performance review.

How programs are communicated can make or break a company’s efforts to use them as recruiting tools for Gen Y employees. If corporate social engagement is important to the company, it should be presented as part of the company, during the entire recruitment process: interview through orientation. “Companies need to recognize that community involvement is a powerful proxy for a helping Gen Y’ers understand what [its] vision and values are,” says Hochberg. “They will look at companies that are committed, engaged and doing meaningful things and they will believe that this is a place I want to work.”

The survey reports that while 62% of respondents would prefer to work for a company where they can volunteer, only 26% reported that companies mentioned volunteerism during the hiring process. According to Leah Reynolds, “one of most amazing things coming out of the IMPACT study was that organizations weren’t maximizing the things they were already doing.” By packaging and communicating its existing programming in a meaningful way, Ms. Reynolds thinks companies can achieve big recruiting benefit without spending big dollars.

Communicating to Gen Y at the right time is half the battle; the other half is communicating in a way that resonates. Gen Y has a keen “authenticity radar” capable of sniffing out phony programs created exclusively for marketing gains. This generation has seen about 400,000 TV commercials by their late teens, and is not easily wooed by shallow advertising. Companies need to make sure they actually have programs “under the hood” as Hochberg puts it, before tooting their own horns. Otherwise, he warns, companies will miss out on the best employees those with perspective and a worldly enough view to see through the hype.

So corporate recruiter, put your community involvement to work for you: empower your workforce to do well and do good, be authentic, and let Gen Y come to you.

For more insights from Evan Hochberg and Leah Reynolds, listen to Deloitte’s podcast entitled: “The Authentic Edge: Getting it Right with Gen Y” here. And for more information on how Deloitte is designing programs to attract and retain Gen Y talent, please visit their website at http://www.deloitte.com/.

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