Millennials need more mentorship and guidance to succeed

Insurance industry heavyweight Brian Duperreault expressed his dismay regarding reports from US studies that few millennials are interested in careers in insurance.  Honestly, it isn’t terribly surprising.  The motivations that attracted generation X and baby boom workers aren’t the same that will attract millennials.  Put simply, the work environment has drastically changed and millennials have a different mindset than those that came before them.  Among the many changes required, businesses looking to attract and retain millennials will need to offer a clearer and more guided path of advancement and achievement than is presently available.

In order to understand why changes in approach are needed it is useful to compare millennials to previous generations.  Baby boomers, for example, worked in a time of far more job stability.  It was not uncommon for a boomer to expect to spend most of their career working for one employer.  Career advancements came in the form of leveraging job stability, on the job experience, employer training and the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder.  Opportunities were usually available within an organization, often through seniority.  Companies were happy to invest in employees because jobs and skillsets did not change too often.

Gen Xers have worked in a time of less job stability but more career stability.  They would often follow one career path for a lifetime.  Career advancements came in the form of on the job experience, job training and focus on getting the experience necessary to laterally move to a better position with another organization in order to climb the ladder.  Companies began to invest less in employees because jobs and skillsets began to change more often.  It became more convenient to hire experienced workers from other firms rather than invest significantly in your own.

Millennials are facing a different age of less job stability and less career stability.   Millennials have grown up in an age of technology, change and rapid innovation.  Skillsets today are ones that often need heavy investments in ongoing training and sadly may be obsolete very quickly.  On the job experience counts for less and employers are not very likely to offer you lifetime employment unless it comes with limited or no advancement.  Millennials face a prospect where many jobs expect you to already be trained and have existing experience to do the job.  These same companies are reluctant invest in training or mentorship themselves, preferring to hire trained and experienced people off the shelf.  Companies are uncertain whether their investments in their employees will payoff as jobs and skillsets can change very frequently and those they do invest in might jump ship for a better opportunity.  It is a double edged sword as millennials are left struggling with how to advance while not getting the guidance and support they need to do so.

It is important to understand that millennials grew up with a very different environment and thus mindset towards goals and achievement.  Millennials are the Nintendo/Playstation generation.   Trained from a young age by video games and the link where you had a good idea what the end goals were, what achievements you needed to get to get there and the accolades you got for doing it.  Gamification is the buzz term for applying it elsewhere.  A path of clear achievable objectives to accomplish in order to advance to the next level was always available.  This is what millennials are most comfortable with.  Contrary to mistaken belief, this doesn’t mean an expectation that things are to be easy and achieved without hard work.  Millennials are just as capable of working hard as any other generation, their context however is different.

It is interesting when you see quotes like this:

“Despite our essential role, the insurance industry in the U.S. faces a looming talent crisis. 45% of management executives will retire in three years, and 400,000 positions are projected to be unfilled by 2020. Less than 5% of Millennials express interest in working in our industry”

One of the problems is that millennials simply aren’t like previous generations.  You can’t simply say “jump” and expect them to ask “how high” because simply few believe that the kind of safety nets that were around for previous generations will still be there.  As technology takes greater prominence jobs are becoming more transient and often heavily skill dependent.  When employers expect to be able to hire skillsets and experience off the shelf one can’t simply gamble their future and career on their employer’s say so.  You can’t simply point at executive roles and say “this could be you” and expect millennials to jump, willing to work endless evenings and weekends and constantly sacrifice for the eventual prospect that one day you’ll be ordained, but who knows when.  Where are the results?  Where are the points, achievements and accolades that indicate progress towards the goal?  Instead advancement needs to be thought of like a ladder.  If “Z” represents the CEO position and “A” represents entry level, you need to explain steps B through Y required to get there, and how you can get there faster in clear sets of achievements.  Not every millennial seeks to climb the entire ladder but most do seek to know what it takes to get to the next level if they’re expected to put in the effort.  Even companies like Goldman Sacks are having to adjust their approach based upon this realization.

There are many factors that will attract and retain millennial employees.  Training, mentorship and guidance are certainly some of the key ones.  Companies can’t simply expect that what worked in the past for previous generations will work with millennials.  Millennials grew up with a very different mindset and in a very different environment.  The challenges facing millennials today provide far less job and career certainty and security than existed in the past.  Thus companies that want to capture the best of millennial talent need to adjust their practices to provide the kind of environment in which they can thrive, the kind of environment they’re accustomed to.  Do that and you’ll empower them to accomplish great things for your business.