The Next Generation

Within the next 10 to 15 years, businesses around the nation will need to find and develop a new generation of leaders for their companies. Many Baby Boomers retire or shift to new careers, meaning a large percentage of the 75 million to 80 million people in that generation will leave the leadership roles in their companies. To develop future leaders to replace those Boomers, businesses will need to turn to younger workers in their 20s and 30s.

“The next generation (after the Boomers) is Generation X, and there are only about 35 million of them,” said Aleta Norris, principal with Living As a Leader, a business leadership training organization. Norris routinely helps companies develop programs to attract and develop younger workers.

“Then there’s Generation Y, and there’s about 70 million of them,” Norris said. “There is a leadership gap. If Generation X is prepared to step into the Boomers’ shoes, there’s only half of them there. You’ll need to prepare Generation Y.”

Some companies in the metro Milwaukee area have found ways to attract, retain and develop people in their 20s and 30s into management candidates. However, many of these companies have found they need to recognize the differences between what younger people today want and expect compared to older generations.

“Generation Y’s want and expect increased responsibility within six months (of their hire),” Norris said. “They’re more ‘me’ centered, and focused on the value they can bring immediately. Their focus is on their value, not on a carte blanche respect for levels of leadership or the chain of command.”

Companies that have been successful at attracting and developing younger workers are also paying attention to work-life balance and social consciousness, things that young workers place at a high premium, Norris said.

“This is a generation that is more focused on issues and improving the world around them,” she said. “That’s a departure from the focus on wealth and materialism. To these people, money isn’t the only thing. It’s more about flexibility and ‘Are we valued?’ and ‘Can we dress casually?’ and ‘Are we making a difference somewhere?'”

Many of these companies are also finding ways to harness young employees’ desire to play a role in decisions made in their companies, as well as their desire for continued education and promotion.

“This has been influenced by how a lot of them were raised – they had a lot of independence and were highly participative in family decisions,” Norris said. “And they want to know that there’s a path for them, that you’ll develop them. If not, they’ll leave.”

While accommodating differences between younger and older generations can seem daunting, many Milwaukee-area companies have found ways to tap into the expectations of younger workers. By harnessing the passion and dedication of these young workers, several of these companies have created a driven, focused and loyal workforce with growing numbers of young people.

Employee development

Rockwell Automation Inc.’s Advance organization was formed about five years ago to help the company better connect to its younger employees through social, education and career development programs.

“It’s our affinity group that is designed specifically for development, retention, and to create a community for our young professionals,” said Susan Schmitt, senior vice president of human resources at Rockwell. “At Rockwell, Advance is focused on how we develop and retain our younger employees. They also partner with FUEL Milwaukee, to look at ways to attract younger people to come to Milwaukee for their professions.”

The Advance Group works diligently to expose its members to the senior management at Rockwell, holding an annual mixer where its members are able to meet with, and ask questions of the company’s leadership, Schmitt said.

“It’s almost like a round-robin experience, where a senior leader will be sitting at a table and Advance members will rotate from table to table,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to get that visibility and exposure but also to have some really rich dialogue.”

The ability to network with, talk to and receive feedback from senior management is unique for young professionals working in large corporations, said Tressa Knutson Bruggink, Rockwell’s employee communications manager and leadership council president of Advance.

“We have a lot of access to our leadership team and they’re very open to it too,” she said. “Having an ear to someone in the leadership team is incredibly powerful.”

Knutson Bruggink, 34, has been active in Advance since it formed five years ago and has seen several colleagues find advancement opportunities through it.

Rockwell’s training program, while not specifically created for its young employees, has been popular with that group despite changes due to economic conditions. Instead of using traditional classroom-based training programs, Rockwell has increased on-the-job training for its employees, Schmitt said.

“We’ve had a number of very deliberate job rotations where we take really talented people of any age and put them into stretch job assignments intentionally so we’re creating a pretty powerful development experience for them,” she said.

Fullhouse, a Milwaukee-based interactive communications and marketing agency specializing in video, web-based and video game work, also create individual growth plans for its employees. At Fullhouse, young, entry-level workers are frequently paired with older, established mentors who can quickly identify strengths and skills, said Beth Heal, director of human resources at Fullhouse.

“When someone new comes in they’re able to contribute from day one,” she said. “We can put them on a team and they have a say in what is happening (right away).”

Crucial communication

Cudahy-based Ladish Co. Inc. has not changed the way it does business to attract and retain a younger generation of workers – just the way it talks about it. The company forges metal products for jet and helicopter engines as well as key components for the aerospace industry, and the space shuttle from its main forging facility, which occupies about 1.5 million square feet. The company has about 2,000 employees total; more than 840 of them work from its Cudahy facility.

“We’re making things that go on the space shuttle – the tanks and booster rockets on the launch pad have segments and rings that are made here at Ladish and our people take a lot of pride knowing that they contribute to those markets,” said Max Wollering, manager of employee relations and benefits. “The work here is not rote, not routine. All of our people are constantly challenged, and we stress teamwork because we’re producing parts that must be of the highest quality.”

Understanding that today’s young workers want to be challenged, want to feel like they’re doing something important and want to learn on the job has allowed Ladish to better connect with those employees, he said.

“A lot of it is the common thread of having team building exercises to challenge them and ( to give them the opportunity) to be able to contribute,” Wollering said. “We’re breaching the barriers between hourly, salary, professionals and shop employees and between labor and management – and keeping an open mind to communications and change with both our younger and older generations. We’re listening and addressing what can be done with the needs of our people, but still having everyone focus on what the requirements are to be successful.”

Ladish has been in business since 1905, and until about three years ago, the majority of its workforce was comprised of workers 45 years old or older.

“We have four generations working here, traditionalists who were born before 1945, Boomers who are 45 to 63 years old, Generation X who are 29 to 44 years old, and Millenials who are 28 and younger,” Wollering said.

The company’s employee base is now comprised in rough thirds – those who have been working there for more than 30 years, those who have been there three to 29 years, and those who have been working there for less than three years. Because Ladish has a turnover of less than two percent per year, most of its workers who have been there for 10 years or less are younger employees, Wollering said.

Work with meaning

Milwaukee-based Stone Creek Coffee has built a loyal, committed workforce made up of people in their 20s and early 30s because of the way the company is run and its mission.

“We are working on something more than doing jobs and making money,” Eric Resch, the company’s owner and founder, said. “Our company is based on the Stone Creek Seven values, values that are based on social responsibility. Those values say that we believe in something, that we can make a difference and we can make this a better world.”

Because Stone Creek’s business values are so clearly stated, it has been able to make strong connections with passionate young workers, Resch said.

“This (generation) is an enlightened group with a global understanding of the world,” he said. “They’re not working for the money but for something that they care about. And they won’t work for you if you don’t have a cause they care about.”

Stone Creek Coffee has about 105 employees. Resch is the only employee who is older than 40.

“I started this company when I was 24. I have a lot of faith in people in their 20s,” Resch said. “Our vice president of operations is 26 and has been with us since he was 16. The person who runs all of our retail operations is 30 and has been with us for eight or nine years. And the person who runs our wholesale operations is 24. She’s a Marquette grad.”

Part of Stone Creek’s mission is also to improve the lives of its coffee producers in South and Central America. It also routinely donates its products to nonprofit organizations that sell the coffee for fundraisers.

Fullhouse, also works to build a stronger bond with its younger workers with regular donations and by encouraging its employees to volunteer with community and nonprofit organizations. During 2008, the company raised about $34,000 in donations for the American Diabetes Association. This year, the company will hold three different fund-raising campaigns for three different charities. In April, it hosted a speaker from the Wisconsin Humane Society, in July the company will participate in a Milwaukee County Parks Department cleanup project, and it will participate in a breast cancer awareness project in October.

The company also supports its employees who are organizing their own volunteer drives for community programs.

“We have an employee bulletin board where people can post stuff. There are a surprising number of people that volunteer on Saturdays and Sundays to do things that people are asking for – runs, walks and all sorts of things,” Heal said.

Casual and flexible

Fullhouse has embraced its younger employees by adopting a casual workplace environment, including casual dress, allowing employees to bring their dogs to work, flexible scheduling and a generous personal time off (PTO) policy.

“We don’t have set hours – people work to get the job done,” Heal said. “Our start time is anywhere between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in the morning, and the end of the day is the same.”

Almost 70 percent of Fullhouse’s employees are in their 20s or 30s, Heal said.

The company’s employees are able to work from home when they need to. They are also given an unlimited amount of personal time off (PTO), which is maintained separate from vacation time.

“We trust that they are making decisions that are the best for them and the company,” Heal said. “We don’t have people abusing the policy. It’s not a set amount. It’s not monitored. And it’s not vacation or a holiday.”

Stone Creek is also generous with its vacation time. After employees have been with the company for four years, they are given one month in PTO time, which includes vacation. According to Resch, the time is in recognition of his employees’ efforts at work and the company’s efforts to ensure they have a healthy work-life balance.

“My belief is that my employees work hard when they are here and when they’re not I want them to do something cool with their lives,” he said. “Every person has a job description here and that includes work/life balance. If you lead a good life outside of work, you will lead a good one here.”

CORE Consulting LLC, a Thiensville-based technical recruiting, training and design outsourcing firm, allows its workers to earn extra vacation time in exchange for longer hours worked.

“If you put in more time you get more vacation time,” Jesse Daily, partner in the firm, said. “It creates a flexible lifestyle and work environment that our employees can have if they want it.”

The company’s flexibility carries into CORE’s work arrangements with its employees. The company routinely places engineers and designers with client companies on short to medium term contracts, allowing their employees to gain a wide range of experiences.

“That really appeals to the younger generation, the ability to (create) the work path you want to follow,” Daily said. “The employee has the ability to gauge the employer and tell if they’re not going to be happy there, and find something different if they’re not. They can determine where they want to grow.”

“One of the benefits here is that we have unlimited training, and opportunities for different types of assignments,” said Matthew Buerosse, the other CORE partner. “They don’t have to be stuck in one department if they don’t want to be.”

Stone Creek, Fullhouse and CORE have games like ping pong, foosball and golf practice nets in their facilities for employees to use when brainstorming. The presence of the games helps make the workplace feel more casual, but employees aren’t spending hours on them.

“I can’t remember the last time I heard someone playing ping pong in here,” Resch said.

Transparent financials

Many companies that have successfully engaged a younger work force openly share detailed financial information with their employees. Rockwell, Ladish, Stone Creek and Fullhouse all routinely share their numbers with workers, either on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Over the last several years, Rockwell has created an internal communications strategy that allows chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch to share the company’s financial and performance information with employees in a “two-way, interactive way,” Schmitt said.

“We have messages that come from Keith that are very transparent and very direct about what is happening in our world and what is happening with our earnings and where we stand as a company,” she said. “We’ve also created a way for people to provide their input, thoughts, ideas and concerns to Keith. What our team is doing as all these come in, they’re taking those and making sure that they get to the right people for a response.”

Although Resch has far fewer employees and a much more concentrated footprint than Rockwell, he adopts a similar approach with his employees. And once economic conditions improve, he hopes to create an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) for his workers at Stone Creek.

Those plans are being developed now, but Resch has given careful consideration to how he will promote the program with his employees.

“The structure will be more in a payment on an annual basis and there will also be a long term component,” he said. “When you’re young you need to make a decent wage. You need to work to build a life. You’re focused on short term equity.” 

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