Workforce development is top of mind these days, with many different facets to how employers attract, develop, and retain their best employees.  In today’s world, a successful organization needs to be addressing each of these areas.  How do you attract talented individuals to come work for your company?  How do you give them the skills they need to be successful not just doing their job but within your culture?  And finally, how do you retain them for the long term, so you’re not going through the cycle of attrition and recruiting? 

There are some best practices we’ve come across in our work that can lead to successful talent attraction and retention, and if you’re good at these things and if they become part of your organization’s brand, you’ll find success in these areas.

First, what do I mean by brand?  This isn’t necessarily the brand that makes people buy your products, this is the brand that people use to describe working at your company and your culture.  I remember when I started working for Microsoft in Fargo within a year of their acquisition of Great Plains in 2001.  In Fargo, Great Plains was an amazing company with an amazing culture, and everyone knew that.  It was a top destination for job seekers, and their voluntary attrition was quite low.  I was on a plane out to Seattle and my seat mate (someone who lived in Seattle) asked who I worked for.  With pride, I said Microsoft.  I’ll never forget her response – “Oh, I’m sorry.  They work their people to death.”  That was the first time I heard any negative feedback associated with Microsoft.  Great Plains’ brand in Fargo was associated with fun, development, & a sense of family.  Microsoft’s brand in Seattle at that time was one of poor work-life balance, long hours and intense competition.  Since then, they’ve worked hard on changing that brand with great results.  Your company’s brand has a huge impact on your ability to attract and retain talent.

So how do you build a great brand for your organization and make it a place people want to work, specifically for the Generation Z?

  • Create a sense of connection and belonging with your organization’s mission, coworkers, and the community.  How many of us have gone to work half-heartedly because of a long day of meetings, or in the middle of a long project, or after a prior day of difficult work, only to see our co-workers say hello, ask how we’re doing, and help us start our day?  If you’re part of a community and feel connected not just to the organization’s mission, but to your coworkers, the benefits are tremendous.  I sometimes equate the company we work for to our “family” during business hours, and that connection is what keeps us coming back.  Extend that connection to your community.  Some organizations have the resources to have community outreach members that help create that brand externally.  If your organization doesn’t have that ability, consider an association or networking group that can do that on your behalf.  Work-based Learning is also a great way to initiate and foster that sense of connection, helping students get to know you, you to know them, and for them to become part of your family.
  • Give your employees a chance to express and support their values.  All generations of workers want to know that their values are respected.  We sometimes say this is particularly strong for Gen Z, but it’s a need for all generations.  Your employees need to understand your company’s values, and you need to understand the values of your current or future employees.  When we build Career Profiles in Compass, we try to highlight a company’s mission and culture, so that students know if their values align or will be supported.  This doesn’t mean that values have to be the same, but it does mean they need to be respected.  This is why diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are so important.  If this is part of your organization’s DNA and embedded in your culture, it won’t just apply to things and values we traditionally associate with diversity but also to different ways of thinking or different habits, including differences across generations, differences around physical capabilities, different perspectives and ways of working.  That effort will help you drive better products, foster a more thriving community, and ultimately become part of your brand, driving attraction and retention.  
  • Invest in your team’s professional development.  When you as an employer help an employee become better at their job, or are able to say to a student “I want to help you pay for tuition if you join our organization,” you’re telling them that they matter.  That you’re willing to invest in them.  That you want them for the long term.  In a recent Gallup poll done for Amazon 66% of new workers said that training programs were one of their most valued perks.  And in our work, a student knowing that a company is willing to help pay for tuition because they see the long term potential of the student is a huge attraction tool.  We believe offering students tuition reimbursement programs drives retention and reduces attrition, potentially saving your organization time and money over the long term.
  • Work the way they work (as much as you can).  I remember getting frustrated with millennials and their use of Instant Messenger to communicate when in the early 2000s, when that first came out.  I felt they were wasting company time, but what I soon realized is that was how they communicate.  When I realized that and embraced it, productivity went up and there was less conflict.  Now, chatting over Teams or Zoom is a normal way of working. Obviously, there are environments where employees must follow the work style in place (particularly manufacturing or healthcare) but as much as possible, respect your audience.  Do studies to see if processes can change and be willing to be flexible.

The things I’ve mentioned above don’t just apply to a work environment.  They apply to the cities and towns we live in, the restaurants we go to, where we go to have fun, the places we go to practice our religion.  Humans are social creatures, and attracting and retaining members or employees or citizens have similar elements.  Great pay and benefits are a huge plus in terms of getting initial interest, but having a culture that shows your team their value, drives connections to other employees and to your company, and demonstrates your willingness to invest in their success will do wonders for your attraction and retention.