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Thursday, 10 March 2016

Attracting Generation Y - not as easy as it sounds

The manufacturing and maritime industries have a problem: young workers no longer view them as highly attractive employment opportunities. What can be done? Plenty, says Senior Executive Search Consultant Oliver Helvin at KWR, but it needs to be done fast.

It turns out attracting members of Generation Y - the mercurial demographic born between 1980 and 2000 - to work in either the manufacturing or maritime industries is not going as well as hoped.

A recent study for the Institution for Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMarEST) uncovered some startling statistics.

  • 90 % of businesses in the manufacturing and maritime sectors, globally, believe they are struggling to attract talented engineers.
  • 93 % said they are operating in a skills gap.
  • 91 % believe their business will be adversely affected in the next twelve months by their inability to recruit fresh talent.

The obvious question: why is this happening?

There was once a time when the manufacturing and maritime sectors were attractive career choices for young people, offering the security of employment for life. Jobs in these industries were viewed as traditional and steady, and those qualities were highly valued.

The problem, of course, is that today, to Generation Y, at least, traditional and steady are not top of the list when it comes to identifying jobs. In fact, for the most talented young people entering the labour market today, traditional and steady might even be turn offs - reasons not to accept a job offer.

As Tony Short a senior director of EMEA & APAC in the Industrial Manufacturing sector recently said to me "Generation Y people are programmed differently and employers need to recognise that delivering their potential is vital to them, indicating an upturned Maslow hierarchy of needs"
While many industries have grasped this reality and adjusted accordingly, the manufacturing and maritime industries have been slow to respond and the result has been predictable. These industries have lost ground to comparatively progressive industries in the battle to attract and recruit young talent.

For the manufacturing and maritime industries, it is time to consider new, better ways of doing old jobs in order to find talent.

It is imperative that both industries look to other sectors to find examples of best practice, and, where they find it, to apply it. There is much to be done, and although the rewards for getting it right are potentially great, the repercussions for getting it wrong are serious.

Understanding Generation Y

The first step to recruiting Generation Y is to understand Generation Y. Companies in the manufacturing and maritime industries must strive to understand how this demographic’s perception of employment differs from previous generations’.  Gaining this understanding will necessarily take time and involve listening carefully, but it will pay dividends.

Already, recruiters in all sectors have come to understand members of Generation Y are not as concerned as their parents or, indeed, their grandparents, were with finding a ‘job for life’. Rather, they view employment opportunities as three or four-year engagements, during which personal development is not only possible, but vital.

Plentiful research has shown repeatedly that Generation Y wants both to feel that the work they are doing is not only personally improving, but of significant benefit to wider society.

Generation Y members, too, are not as interested as previous generations were in competing with colleagues for advancement. Instead, they are enthusiastic to seek collaboration in order further projects. This is a mindshift that all organisations need to accept in order to best harness Generation Y’s skills and dynamism.

Generation Y, too, does not want to enter into workplaces in which their line manager must be viewed as a figure of authority, to be feared as much as respected. Instead, they want leaders and managers who they view as mentors, helping them to unlock and realise their potential.

They also want to work in environments in which flexibility is not an impossible dream - workplaces in which the needs of the individual are understood and accommodated. Generation Y is not prepared to accept that a one size fits all policy is the only way to manage staff.

Making changes

Although perhaps daunting at the outset, it is possible for the manufacturing and maritime industries to adapt existing working practices in order to attract Generation Y talent.

Doing so will take a willingness to accept change is vital, but already we are seeing progress being made.

Lately, some firms have started to put time into the creation and implementation of impressive and realistic Employee Value Propositions (EVP) - an excellent step in persuading potential Generation Y recruits that the organisation takes seriously its responsibilities, both to its people and to the society in which it operates.

Kathy McCormack, Vice President of Human Resources at Johnson Controls recently stated "firms today need to understand the need to personalise their offering to staff and especially Generation Y. We focus on providing our teams with opportunities to develop both on the job and in other forums, our “Tech Innovation Days” are just one example of this."

Firms also need to focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects that are achievable and realistic. Generation Y wants to feel that CSR is not just a box that can be ticked through lip service. They want to see a difference being made.

Likewise, mentoring programs are popular amongst Generation Y, and, if executed correctly, an effective means of management, facilitating knowledge-sharing and shared purpose.

We are seeing an increase across several sectors of mentoring programmes at all corporate levels, from management down to what would, not so long ago, have been viewed as shop-floor apprenticeships.

Mentorships play to the sense of continuous organisational improvement that Generation Y prizes so highly.

Put simply, Generation Y, collectively, wants more from life and work than previous generations have perhaps thought possible. They believe the world can and should be a better place as a result of their existence.

In order to motivate them, an organisation and its leaders must learn to effectively communicate and align corporate and employee goals, focus on outcomes rather than office hours, take an interest in the lives of employees out of work, in their challenges and successes, and learn to sincerely care about their wellbeing.

Any industry that can manage this will reap the benefits: greater employee (and customer) engagement, less short-tenure staff attrition and greater business success.

All to play for

Oliver Helvin

Companies, not only in the manufacturing and maritime industries, but in all commercial spheres, must learn to attract Generation Y. To do this, the focus must be on the life experience an employee is being offered, not on only the professional experience. 

According to Robin Windley - SVP Human Capital at DP World "There is a need to look at the drivers of different generations, not just Gen Y, but in this case “more of the same” will not work. The proposition that we put to potential employees needs to be compelling and offer them something that excites them. Consistent working hours, regular structured work, conditions that have not changed for years, will not do it. Opportunities to work in different locations, doing different and challenging tasks, projects that have a clear objective and short turnaround time are likely to be more interesting. For the employer we have to understand this and meet the changing demands without upsetting the fundamental needs of the business. It is also important to remember that a need for a balance of generations is the ideal. Too many of one and you run the risk of creating something unsustainable, one way or the other.”

Likewise, investment into skills training for Generation Y recruits must be prioritised: viewing it as a luxury will be ultimately self-defeating and cause inevitable damage to bottom lines, as the skills gap, already broad, inevitably widens further.

Generation Y employees must feel relaxed and happy in their place of work - or they will leave. For this reason, companies and managers must ensure the social environment in the work place is optimal - the balance between informality and formality that has existed for decades must be re-examined and re-calibrated.

Formality must yield some ground in the name of progress.

Accommodating Generation Y might seem a tall order, but Generation Y will soon be followed by the Millenials...

If employers think they have had it hard with Generation Y, many will consider early retirement when they hear what Millenials believe entails a healthy work/life balance.

Change now, before it is too late.


Port Finance International provides online news and conferences worldwide. It is a platform and a community for senior industry experts and players to review and discuss the market. Our online news team provides daily coverage of international port finance, investment and operations news. A weekly e-newsletter- sent to readers free of charge - covers the key news and views of the week.

Port Finance International's conferences and training programmes are held across the globe. These events feature key industry figures and they address market challenges and trends as well as providing industry players with essential networking opportunities.

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