Managing and developing young professionals

By Robbie Banks
 
It's no secret that young professionals (YPs) are the future of our workforce. Strategies have been developed to attract, retain, and engage this energetic, educated, and highly mobile workforce in communities and companies across the nation. Engaging YPs now ensures future workforce development needs will be met – despite the retirement of baby boomers. In Columbus, Ohio, the fifteenth largest city in the United States, our eight-county region employs 8,700 people in accountant and auditor occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2010). As the young professionals' manager at the Columbus Chamber, I meet and interact with YPs on a daily basis, including those in the accounting field. One common thread is that YPs highly value development opportunities; therefore, employers that offer YPs such opportunities can leverage them as an attraction and retention tool. If you and your company are seeking opportunities to attract and retain young associates, I am offering a few suggestions to consider for your strategy.
 
First, it may be helpful to provide the definition of a YP. At the Columbus Chamber, we do not define who is or who is not a YP; rather, we let individuals self-select if they consider themselves "young" or "young-minded." However, for research purposes, we often refer to this demographic as young artists, entrepreneurs, and professionals in the Columbus Region between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-five.
 
According to "The Guide to Managing and Developing Young Professionals," which is based on a nationwide, multigenerational survey of 2,300+ respondents and provides advice to employers regarding solutions to attracting and retaining Gen Y, development opportunities are highly valued by young talent:
 
. . . make the office a fun and personable experience for your new entrants to the workforce. Gen Y consider it very important to have friends at work and to work for a personable boss who will mentor them. So ensure you provide opportunities for them to meet others who are similar in age and interests. Employee Resource Groups are a great means for new hires to meet others in the workplace. Also, let your supervisors know that Gen Y want frequent feedback and the ability to interface with others. They also want someone to mentorthem. They are comfortable around adults and want to learn from experience. So don't leave them alone – rather provide them with frequent guidance, coaching, and support.
 
Provide opportunities to meet others who are similar in age and interests.
 
But before you do that, help your young associates learn how to effectively network. Invite a networking subject matter expert to present tips and demonstrate the do's and don'ts of effective networking during a lunch and learn session or after business hours. Providing refreshments will help increase attendance.
 
Encourage young associates to attend various networking events: events targeted for professionals in the accounting field, hosted by business organizations and hosted by local YP organizations. In essence, they will serve as your brand ambassadors at these events, which can result in gaining new clients. Your local or regional Chamber of Commerce is a great place to search for these types of networking events.
 
Search for local and national young CPA groups and offer to pay for their membership dues. The AICPA has as Young CPA Network whose goal is "to create a vital community in which young and aspiring CPAs can seek answers and advice regarding career challenges and opportunities, while building the supportive network of professional relationships they need to be successful in the CPA profession." The Ohio Society of CPAs has a Young CPAs group. This group provides professional development opportunities, communications, and career information; networking and social events; and volunteer opportunities. Or, search for a Meetup Group using "young CPAs" or "young accountants" in the search field.
 
As an alternative to the above-mentioned groups, consider launching a YP or Gen X/Y-focused employee resource group (ERG). This group can convene meetings and events for the group as well as coordinate networking events that connect members of the senior leadership team with members of the ERG. This will break down the perceived barriers between senior leadership and YPs that can exist in the workplace, which leads to my second suggestion . . .
 
YPs want frequent feedback and the ability to interface with others.
 
As a YP, I appreciate the annual performance assessment process the Columbus Chamber uses to help me develop a plan for personal and professional growth and development. I also appreciate the fact that my boss does not wait until my annual performance assessment to review my strengths and opportunities; she provides frequent feedback, encouragement, and praise. The result: I have a great professional relationship with my boss and feel valued as an employee.
 
"The Guide to Managing and Developing Young Professionals" states:
 
The more help they receive preparing for their future at the company, the more likely they'll stay. By understanding your employees' short‐term and long‐term goals, you can tailor tasks to align with both your goals and theirs. Check in with them periodically to figure out what they're learning and where they can learn more. Consider introducing them to people and opportunities that can help them in the future.
 
External networking opportunities can satisfy their desire to interface with others, but consider taking the concept of connecting members of the senior leadership with YPs a step further. Ask each member of your senior leadership team to host lunch with the young associates in their respective divisions every six months or so. This can provide an opportunity for a senior leader to share his or her career path and experiences as well as gain anecdotal feedback about the company. The accessibility to senior leadership is invaluable to YPs, while feedback from YPs is also invaluable to senior leadership. Additionally, a formal mentoring and reverse mentoring programs can further establish relationships among YPs and all levels of leadership.
 
The beauty of most of these suggestions is that they require little effort on your part or your company's part, but your young associates will likely feel valued and engaged as a result. Simply providing your young associates with information about opportunities to connect go a long way to help attract and retain the young talent you desire and need.
 
About the author:
 
Robbie Banks is the young professionals manager at the Columbus Chamber. She leads the facilitation, communication, and implementation of the young professionals' component of the Chamber-led Attract and Retain Talent Initiative. Robbie acts as a point person for young professional issues in the community and supports the Create Columbus Commission (Columbus' Young Professionals Commission). In addition, she helps manage the Chamber's social media efforts. The Chamber supports business growth and development in the eight-county Columbus Region. Contact Robbie at robbie_banks@columbus.org.
 

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