Your company might know how to attract Millennials, but the challenge now is to retain them. Career development is the answer.

Do your Millennial employees remind you of rolling stones that gather no moss? It's true that younger workers are increasingly mobile, with a median turnover of only 1.8 years according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Millennial or Gen Y workers are defined as those ages 18-35. By 2020, this generation will make up 50 percent of the workforce.

You can blame the parents for indulging Millennials, but according to Brittany Palubiski, manager of early career development at General Motors, "Companies will have no choice but to consider this generation the new talent pool and to figure out how to retain and develop them. We've just kicked off a program called Workforce 2020, a movement to help GM understand how to truly be an employer of choice for Millennials."

The self-esteem of Millennials has been fueled by doting parents who gave them the confidence and the messaging to be anything they wanted to be. Is it no wonder, then, that they are pushing employers for quick advancement and now care more about "What's in it for me?" than they do about authority, loyalty, or manager relationships?

What works

Integral Talent Systems, a technology-enabled global talent management firm based in Silicon Valley, recently completed a 14-month study that examined what really motivates Millennials to change employers. Full-time employees across multiple industries in the United States were interviewed and surveyed. The results indicate that 60 percent of the Millennial workers are currently looking for a new job or career while still employed.

In addition, out of 15 job factors present in the work environment, an organization that appeals to Millennials' career and lifestyle aspirations will be the most preferred employer. These job factors are even more important to them than pay or their relationship with their managers. In addition, Millennials do not need to be highly dissatisfied with their current job to make a change. If something more attractive comes across their radar screen, in the way of career advancement or lifestyle aspirations, they will leap, regardless of how long they have been with their current employer.

Although the results of this study may sound controversial—after all, the adage "Employees leave managers, not companies" has been a frequent cliche during the past 20 years—it is possible that we are at a tipping point with early-career workers who have different job preferences.

Many companies are mystified about how to successfully attract, engage, and retain Gen Y employees. Consulting firms that support large organizations with succession planning have reported that their clients are struggling to keep Gen Y workers long enough to complete their high-potential job rotation programs, much less be available to take over the jobs of retiring Baby Boomers. However, some "early adopter" companies seem to be getting it right by creating a work environment that promotes flexible work-life arrangements and offers career support to address just these issues.

Feed high potentials' appetites

As a retailer, Banana Republic, a division of Gap, employs a high percentage of young workers. It has sought to address the attraction and retention challenges in a variety of ways that have been successful. For example, to meet work-life balance preferences, the company has implemented a results-oriented work environment (ROWE) at its San Francisco and New York headquarters offices. ROWE allows employees to make choices about how and where they work according to what results and deliverables they are accountable for achieving.

In addition, high-potential employees at Banana Republic can participate in the ASCEND program, which offers leadership development, career planning, mentoring, and action learning projects, such as initiatives to improve local employee engagement and business results. The program was the brainchild of Susan Goss-Brown, Banana Republic's West Coast senior regional director. She realized the potential of the company's young, diverse workforce and wanted to create a development experience for them that would allow them to "remove
the brakes and allow them to go as fast as they can go."

Research reveals that stores that have an incumbent from this well-regarded program outperform district and regional sales revenue by 40 percent. In addition, ASCEND program participants are 44 percent more likely to remain at the company than their peers, and 32 percent of them have been promoted to the next level in their careers.

John Lindner, senior manager of learning and development, says that the program was designed to provide attention to early-career employees who are hungry to contribute their ideas and energy to the business. "The program gives them permission to step it up and lead," he says.

Mapping a career path

In the healthcare industry, attracting and retaining Gen Y talent is seen as critical to meeting the needs of a growing and aging industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare jobs in the United States will make up half of the 30 fastest growing occupations by 2022. Several organizations are leading the pack in their employment practices for Millennials.

Satellite Healthcare, a renal care provider, responded directly to results from its annual employee engagement survey. In it, employees asked for more tools and resources on how to navigate their careers within the organization.

In response, Rosemary Fox, chief operating officer and vice president of in-center dialysis services, created a hallmark program called Satellite Healthcare's Career Pyramids. The program emphasizes performance as the main basis for career advancement, which is a workplace practice that Millennials value.

The firm realized that through such efforts, it could improve employee tenure and engagement, particularly in entry-level roles such as the patient care technician. The program provides more structure on what is needed to pursue career growth and gives employees a clear picture of what they need to do to move ahead.

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Satellite Healthcare's Career Pyramids includes three-dimensional tabletop charts that define the different positions within a particular dialysis career category. One side of the pyramid lists position titles from entry-level to leadership roles. On the second side, the corresponding education, experience, and characteristics are listed for each position. And on the third side, the related certificates and competencies are listed.

Supported by Charles Evans, Satellite's training and development manager, the program development team formed a committee that included patient care technicians, clinical managers, and other core clinic staff. The committee defined standards for career promotion and career development activities needed to advance to each level on the pyramid. This team approach created buy-in by people in the field. In fact, several committee members volunteered to speak to other employees about the program during its rollout.

Not only is the firm scoring higher marks year over year on the employee engagement survey items related to career satisfaction, but it now also enjoys some of the highest overall engagement scores against all healthcare industry benchmarks. For example, 92 percent of employees report that they expect to have a long-term career at the organization.

Job shadowing and job rotations

A no-layoff philosophy and career coaching define some of the retention strategies at Scripps Health in San Diego, which is a long-tenured member of Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work list. Joelle Cook, manager of talent development services at Scripps, offers Gen Y employees a chance to explore career options through the Other Side of the Fence program.

"This program allows our employees a chance to job shadow people in roles they might be interested in pursuing," she explains. In addition, employees can use their online career toolkit and mobility chart to browse or search for next-step career options. Veronica Zaman, corporate vice president of human resources and learning says, "As a result of our consistent focus on career growth and mobility at Scripps, we enjoy a 2 to 3 percent vacancy rate and high patient satisfaction scores."

Job rotation programs used as career exploration tools also seem to be emerging as a popular method for keeping Millennials engaged. For example, the sales operations department at Stryker Orthopaedics has created a functional rotation program to attract and retain business operations talent in the department. The company competes with investment banking and tech companies for employees, so the rotation program at Stryker is designed to allow early-career employees the opportunity to experience five different functional areas within sales operations for two months each, "so that the employee can determine which areas of the organization might be most interesting from a job fit standpoint."

General Motors, once considered a "mature" company, is going through a transformation that includes a serious focus on attracting and engaging young talent. The company wants to harness the innovation and energy that it believes Gen Yers can add to GM. The company also uses several types of job rotation experiences, including internship, co-op, and functional rotation programs, to allow young talent to take responsibility for real jobs and projects that help them explore and find their path at GM.

"We recognize 'the whole person' through programs such as TRACK, an early-career program that, in addition to functional rotation assignments, gives our early-career talent opportunities to innovate, network with senior leaders, network socially, and participate in meaningful community service," says Palubiski.

Self-service learning

In addition to formal programs, companies are implementing technology solutions to appeal to Millennials, who are tech savvy and appreciate and use self-service learning tools for development. Andy Kimball, CEO of Qube Learning, says that companies such as Apple and Autodesk have implemented both online and mobile gamification platforms for employee development, onboarding, and new job skills training.

Google designed a self-service career website for employees that allows for custom messaging to be "pushed" to employees based on their personally inputted career plans and career interests. Entepath offers talent management and social engagement software that, through intelligent matching, enables employers to create a connected and productive workplace that is so valued by Millennials.

NCB Bank has successfully implemented an enterprisewide online talent management system called TalentMatch that has a robust career module that enables employees to search for roles within the company for which they might be qualified. At the same time, managers can search the internal company talent pool for employees who aspire to positions they need to fill.

Speaking of managers, it has become more common for them to be taught how to have career conversations with their employees. The training function also must help managers realize that effective employee development does not always require a large budget or time away from work at a formal training program. Most effective development happens on the job.

By recognizing what Millennials value most from their early work experiences and employers, such as real chances to explore, develop, grow, and advance in their careers, you too can motivate them to stay with your organization and stop their roll out the door.


Career Development for Millennials

Author B. Lynn Ware presented an ASTD webcast in March 2014. Listen to an excerpt from it, during which she offers more guidance about attracting and retaining Millennials.