Leveraging the Workforce: Developing Young Talent


By Yumi Numata

Despite debate and different perceptions around how generational differences manifest themselves in the workforce, stereotypes of ‘entitled’ Millennials, cynical Gen X-ers or baby boomers who just won’t retire, there are two undeniable generational truths:

  • The baby boomer exit is happening, whether at a slow or rapid pace. By 2016, it is estimated that 17 per cent of Canadian organizations will lose more than 50 per cent of current leadership.
  • Youth unemployment is the highest it has ever been in Canada (14.1%), with underemployment acting as the next best – or some would argue, only – option for a cohort of educated, under-utilized young people.

So why not take a symbiotic approach to these two issues: dealing with one, in order to address another?

It seems natural that succession planning would be a necessary element for any forward-thinking organization that faces the issue of baby boomers retiring. Despite this, the majority of organizations in Canada are without an executive team replacement strategy. As the workforce continues to change, along with how workplaces function, and even how a work day manifests itself – whether due to generation, culture, globalization, technology etc. – planning for the future and investing in employees, both current and potential, seems like a logical, tactical plan.

As such, succession planning shouldn’t be approached on an as-needed basis, planning or investing in who will fill immediate top tier positions as they are vacated. Instead, a holistic approach towards succession planning should take a longer view and necessarily include strategies on attracting and retaining talent from entry-level positions up to management positions: this is where the youth come in.

Rather than accepting as actual, negative perceptions and stereotypes that typically burden the notion of ‘youth’ in the context as employees – i.e. senses of entitlement or impatience – focus ought to be redirected onto how generational differences, real or otherwise, can be developed into assets in the ever-evolving workplace. Here, strategies such as mentorship, or even reverse mentorship, training programs that allow new hires to experience working and learning in multiple departments, and/or opportunities for open communication and knowledge sharing across an organization come into play. Creating opportunities for young adults and new hires, fostering their need for a sense of purpose in the workplace, while having a clear understanding of what it is about one’s company culture that keeps (or doesn’t) employees sticking around is integral to the workplace success of both the individual employee and organization as a whole. The investment should result in positive outcomes for both parties. By implementing such programming as an integral aspect of strategic planning, organizations can mitigate the pending scramble to fill vacated positions at all levels within the workplace.

At the recent Best of BC Business awards, which honors the top companies to work for in BC as voted by employees, a MindField Group representative stressed that engagement was the number one factor employees valued most, regardless of age (MindField analyzed and delivered the results of the awards program.) It may be true that many young people enter the workforce with different expectations, are steadfast in leading a life that is flexible and don’t compromise on their values, but are their core values really so different than those of Gen X-ers or Boomers? Instead of counting young people out, finding ways to positively integrate them into the workforce can only be beneficial to everyone as we all strive to keep abreast of the ever-changing socio-economic landscape.

Yumi Numata is the marketing and outreach lead for the XYBOOM Conference, which takes an intergenerational approach to addressing youth unemployment and the baby boomer exit. Bringing together nine expert panelists from three generations, with business professionals and youth  (19-30 yrs), participants will collaborate and leave with new perspectives and strategies on how to leverage the changing workforce. Businesses are encouraged to apply now at www.xyboom.ca as space is limited. Yumi is a graduate of NYU’s Media, Culture and Communications MA program with diverse non-profit, social justice and strategic communications experience.

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  1. This article definitely identifies the main trends in employee management and hiring methods. With so many job descriptions demanding the applicant have at least two years of experience, many for entry level positions, the opportunity to learn valuable on the job skills is non-existent. The opportunity for us to introduce the etiquette and teach a different generation the very values of our own is also sacrificed.

    This is a huge area of potential that the younger generation is quite fond of, teaching and learning new things.

    Regardless of a company’s size, the potential for long-term survival will always be sacrificed if the employees and their talent becomes a demand upon hire rather than something fostered within the work environment at all levels.

    Thanks for this piece, Yumi!

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