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May 1, 2017 Community Connections

Companies must give Millennials a ‘seat at the adult’s table’

Andre Santiago

Every few years there are hot topics of particular interest to employers. Lately the focus has been on Millennials.

As a Millennial, I find this quite frustrating. I have attended workshops where facilitators teach employers about the needs of people within this age group and about how to get the best out of them. While in theory these objectives are amazing, many of these facilitators are not Millennials and use terminology that seems to segregate or silo this age group; even worse, they use language that implies that Millennials are a problem to solve.

Instead of having workshop after workshop about this one target population, why not have conversations that come from an intergenerational point of view? Create opportunities to bring people of all ages to the table to share their experiences? Every generation brings something unique to the table where learning can happen from every direction and from every point of view.

A question to consider: How many college graduates really know what the future holds or where their path will take them? In reality, probably not many — I know that I didn't. That first job or professional experience for a younger adult can help determine the direction of his or her career.

I graduated in 2007 with a degree in music and had no idea what type of employment I wanted or what job I was qualified to hold. I landed a job at a nonprofit organization in Hartford. Who could have known that interviewing for this job would change my life in a profound way? Ten years later, not only am I still with the same organization, but I am a senior leader and a “lifer.” Talent retention is vital for any organization and there is a significant reason why I have chosen to stay. I was allowed to sit at the same table with leaders from all generations and to learn from them in a safe, caring environment.

I look at my early career as the appetizer. I was starving for knowledge and needed to build a network. I ate up all of the information I could and was grateful that I was allowed a seat at the adult's table and not sidelined to the children's table. All of my colleagues had more experience than I did, so I watched them work and took it all in. They encouraged me to try new things and bring my own knowledge to the table. I stayed at this organization while many of my Millennial peers switched employers multiple times.

This unique exposure to new observations and experiences enabled me to have a seamless transition to the salad course, also known as my late 20s. Now that I am about to dig into my entrée, I am enjoying the meal and look forward to savoring the rest of my main course and dessert as a leader in the same organization.

According to Forbes, “Millennials are more likely to change jobs because they are not willing to stick around if they do not believe they are receiving any personal benefit or growth.” The average length of time for a Millennial to stay at the same job is two years. While employers are focused on how to retain Millennials, my employers used their energy and focus to provide me with rich learning opportunities, create genuine relationships and invest in my passions.

In order to engage and empower their young workforce, employers need to treat their young professionals like valued members of the team and provide a safe space to learn from others at the table. If employers want Millennials to stay and invest in the organization, I encourage them to set a place at the table, share a meal and see how much more effective their organizations can be.

Andre Santiago is a senior program director at Leadership Greater Hartford.

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