The 'problem' with hiring digital natives and three ways to solve it

Talent retention is still a huge issue across adland and it's only going to get more difficult as young people's career expectations change, writes Simon Hankin, joint chief executive of Exposure Digital.

The 'problem' with hiring digital natives and three ways to solve it

"I’ve been in this role for three months, but don’t feel like I’m making an impact," said one millennial on handing in their notice. I knew then that it was time to readdress our approach to retaining this talented age group.

Millennials joining workplaces today are immensely valuable to any business. Their skills are a reflection of the surroundings and austerity in which they have grown up. Out of necessity, they have had to do things for themselves, and with a plethora of digital tools at their disposal, they have been smart enough to put them to work. They are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of us non-millennials: they are freer thinking, smarter and ahead of the curve in terms of digital. 

"They have grown up in a world where everything is on demand, so within six to nine months of being hired, they feel they’re not making the impact they should be"

There’s a challenge attached to that, however. They are impatient. Because digital is native to them, and they have grown up in a world where everything is on demand. So within six to nine months of being hired, they can feel they’re not making the impact they should be.

We can’t blame them for this. Many of them have already created an enterprise, gained an audience through blogging or launched a YouTube channel. They are high achievers – they want to have a purpose beyond 9-5 and desire to make an impact.

This has radically changed the relationship between young talent and their employers. It is much more equal, built on a mutual respect and an understanding that even the youngest employees aren’t here just to learn – they have their own talents and skills that they bring with them. Businesses and their leaders have been too slow to adapt the workplace model to this new reality.

Talent retention comes down to this equal relationship. And there are three essential ingredients required to not only attract, but also retain the best young talent.

Purpose: Have a strong and clearly articulated purpose. It’s not enough to say "we want to be the number one agency". It has to be tangible and it has to be something everyone in the business can strive to achieve.

Learning: Millennials come into the industry not just with a great deal of knowledge, but also a hunger to learn more. Senior managers should make the most of both these traits; they should feed that desire for knowledge by sharing their wisdom and experience. Don’t be lazy and pay for a training course! We should also take the time to learn from the bank of knowledge that young people bring with them – a great way to make them feel valued.

Friendship: Everyone needs an environment where they can find like-minded people, where they are supported and where they can have fun. Since we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with friends and family, the workplace has to offer that.  For many people, their career goals are exclusively about friendship - they simply need to feel like they belong. Businesses need to do what they can to meet this.

It’s also important to take money out of the equation. We operate in an industry where young talent can walk up the road and find a role offering £10k more. And when London rents are so high, millennials may feel forced to move to a job that pays more. A good salary is not enough on its own, but is worth investing in if you want people to feel secure and happy with where they work.

This is an immensely exciting time for our industry. There are great opportunities out there for millennials to achieve things that transform our industry and change our world. And it’s our responsibility to invest in their talent. If we fail to do so, we will lose the brightest minds to other industries. If we succeed – we’ll get a second chance.

That millennial I quoted earlier? They have just accepted a role back in our agency.

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