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My thoughts on #BetterMA: How to Retain Gen Y

Yesterday was the “Cultivating Talent: A Building a Better Commonwealth Forum” at the beautifully restored Paramount Center. The goal of the event was to discuss how Massachusetts can better engage and retain Generation Y. While I was expecting a lot of rhetoric and empty conversation, I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the event had very productive discussion and moved past stereotypes and un-actionable obstacles (sorry, the weather isn’t changing and neither are T hours).

Attendees were encouraged to share their ideas after the event via their blogs, so I’d like to share a few of my thoughts:

Give the “Stay Here” program a facelift.

During audience Q&A, I asked Governor Patrick about the program and suggested they get a better name ASAP.  As a Gen Y’er there are few things less appealing than the command, “Stay.”  We’re an aspirational group and like to think that we’re all blazing our own trails.   Phrases like “Stay Here” run counter to that as it feels like our parents asking us not to go or just a group begging us to do something we’re not interested in (one tongue-in-cheek audience member proposed the change, “baby, don’t go!”).

So what’s the solution? (as the Governor rightly put me on the spot for my suggestion)

I like “Grow Here”, but “Develop Here”, “Be Here” and “Build Here” all work too (note: because of the overarching Mass, It’s All Here program, it has to end in “Here”). The key to me is that the phrase should be inviting and encouraging; I want to know there’s a great party going on and I’d be a fool to miss it. I would also like to know that you understand Gen Y and know that graduating college is just the first step in a career filled with growth and opportunity.  “Stay here” feels like that needy girlfriend you dumped when you went to college. “Grow here” and “Be here” feels like that experience you had at that awesome party you found on the second day in college and never seemed to truly leave.

The Simplest Solution – Give Us Fulfilling Jobs.

Diane did a great job in pulling the panel back from a downward spiral into the same, unlikely-to-be-fixed issues that have plagued many similar events – T and bar hours, cultural complaints and high cost of housing.  She reminded everyone that young people regularly happily cram themselves like sardines into tiny, overpriced apartments in NYC.  If we’re happy with our work and our immediate environment, we’ll happily make sacrifices in other areas.

As reported recently in the New York Times, “the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds is a whopping 17.6 percent.” If you included the number of people who have jobs unrelated to their majors, but are waiting tables or doing temp work, the number would grow even larger.  I refuse to believe that 1 in 5 (or more) of my fellow Gen Y members is a total unemployable loser.  The fastest way to retain our local graduates is to give them challenging, interesting jobs.

We have to find a way for these better opportunities to be as visible to students as those stuffy, entry level, soul-sucking jobs at finance companies and other conglomo-corp type companies. As I wrote in my contribution to Kirsner’s Globe piece…we need to Go to Them!

Smaller, more interesting companies obviously have less bandwidth, but that just means you need to get creative.  Leverage your existing staff to start with the schools they went to; they’re likely to know how to get around some of the dead ends in the schools career services department; even Northaestern, (where I went) #1 in job placement after graduation, has an ineffective career services department…it’s the co-op program that gets everyone their jobs. So also think about getting an intern or two. They’ll be cheap and a great way to test a young person’s talent before you invest in a full time offer.

There is great complexity in the challenge of motivating and retaining an entire generation. These are just 2 areas I think we can immediately improve.

How would you improve things for Gen Y in Massachusetts?

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