SEMA News—March 2020


Attracting and Retaining Next-Generation Talent

Workplace Tactics You Can Adopt to Win Over Millennials

By Mike Imlay

Attracting and retaining next-generation talent to the industry is an increasingly urgent concern for aftermarket retailers and shops. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies that can help ensure that your young hires become collaborative, fulfilled and long-term members of your team.

One of the more pressing issues confronting today’s small-business shops is finding and attracting young talent. The case for winning over Millennials is obvious. As more industry retailers and shops come to rely on advanced technologies and social-media marketing, the need for employees adept in those areas will only grow. Plus, the industry overall is graying, meaning that the demand for new workers to replace retiring employees will also become more urgent with each passing year.

In that regard, the aftermarket shares the same boat with the rest of American industry. According to a recent Pew Research analysis, Millennials now comprise 35% of the U.S. labor force, making them the largest generation in the labor pool. Gen Xers followed closely, comprising roughly a third of Americans either working or looking for work, while Baby Boomers have fallen to just a quarter of the force. Moreover, while Millennial numbers will continue to climb, they are not likely to match the peak labor participation achieved by Boomers in the late ’90s. In other words, as they are retiring, Boomers are leaving a vacuum that will put young talent in even greater demand throughout every American business sector.

However, Millennials represent a “digital generation” that greatly differs both educationally and culturally from their predecessors. For example, the moon landing, television and an emphasis on self-sufficiency were major influencers for the Boomer generation. On the other hand, Google, the internet and higher degrees of parental involvement helped form the Millennial generation. For Boomers, new technology was a marvel that promised a brighter future. For Millennials, high technology is a fact of life. What’s more, experts say that there are also big differences in how each demographic communicates and defines working relationships.

JP Griffin Group, an employee-benefits consultancy, has identified four specific areas where Millennials differ from their older labor-force counterparts:

  • Performance Feedback: In general, older employees are happy to have a set list of goals, which they can accomplish on their own with minimal supervision. In contrast, Millennials prefer shared goals and seek informal feedback much more frequently.
  • Mentorship: The younger generation desires employers to develop and mentor their leadership skills.
  • Gratification: Boomers are accustomed to delayed gratification. Because of technology, Millennials have come to expect more immediate rewards from their efforts.
  • Flexibility: While older workers are used to eight-hour schedules with stricter start and end times, younger laborers find their work/life balance through more flexible schedules and casual working environments.

Note that none of this means Millennials are lazy, work less hard in the long run, or are uninterested in the automotive field.

“They just work differently because they were raised differently,” said Michael Lanza, manager of consulting services for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes. “We can sit back and complain about it, or we can go out and find out what motivates these young people.”

In his 30 years associated with the repair and refinish sector of the aftermarket, Lanza has become an expert presenter on the topic, helping numerous shops to rethink their approach toward attracting and retaining next-gen talent.

For Lanza, it boils down to a simple proposition: “How do we say [to them] you can get out of college or not even go to college and work for Gap, or you can come into our industry and have a good life, a good career, make good money and be in demand?”

According to Lanza, the first step is to understand what this demographic seeks in a job. Many come fresh from school with high career expectations but are still searching to find their niche. Unfortunately, many also have inflated salary expectations. Demonstrating how your business can fit into their professional growth and training will go a long way toward incorporating them successfully into your workplace and can even help bridge any (mis)perceived salary gaps. To accomplish that, Lanza recommends the following strategies:

1) Build a Sense of Collaboration and Involvement

Clear communications of job responsibilities and mutually agreed-upon goals help gain loyalty and dedication from today’s young workers. Show them that they have a stake in the business. Share your goals for them and ask what their own professional goals are. Ask how they see themselves contributing to the business. Then develop a concrete game plan together.

“What this means is that I sit down with you at the beginning of the year and say, ‘This year, we want to accomplish these goals,’” Lanza explained. “‘I need my goals, and I want your goals too. I want to know what you professionally want to accomplish this year. Let’s build these goals together, which is beneficial to the shop and beneficial to you, because we have common goals and we can help each other grow.’”

2) Provide Regular, Ongoing Feedback

“Younger people are going to ask a lot more questions, and we’re not used to that, especially when our day is exploding,” Lanza explained. “But we’re going to have to find time to do that, because that’s the learning style this younger generation has grown up with. They crave feedback.”

While many workplaces rely on annual performance reviews with semi-annual progress reports, a friendly sit-down with young employees several times a year for feedback on agreed-upon goals makes for a better strategy. Don’t wait for reviews to address course corrections when the staffer appears to be having difficulties. (Again, the collaborative approach works best.) In fact, Lanza often advises that small businesses transform their entire culture to one in which management and staff both proactively show up each day armed with goals and priorities. Touching base weekly or even daily on goals and action items can be a game-changer overall and a time-saver in the long run.

3) Recognize and Encourage the Unique Talents That Millennials Already Possess

“This generation brings a lot of skills that are going to take our industry to the next level,” Lanza said. “We’re bringing in a new generation that’s used to computers and technology. Scanning vehicles and calibrating advanced computer and damage-avoidance systems will be a full-time role. So there is a place for them to segue into our industry.”

But that place is not necessarily being pegged into traditional job descriptions or rote assignments, Lanza emphasized.

“Sadly, the typical shop in our industry is very reactionary,” he said. “If you hire somebody who is not from the industry or who doesn’t have that ‘put your head down to the grind’ mentality and put them in a dysfunctional and broken environment, it’s going to be short term.”

The answer is to find ways to make the workplace more dynamic. Incorporate new communications systems and software. Rethink job descriptions and reporting structures. By embracing some of the newer ideas, technologies and organizational concepts that Millennials excel in, you’ll not only retain your new hires but also position your business for
greater success.

4) Offer Continual Growth Through Training and Education Opportunities

Millennials are highly motivated to grow, achieve and experience new things. They also do best when they see how their skills and contributions impact others in an organization, and vice versa. Exposing young employees to differing facets of your workplace through job rotation, cross training and mentorships helps them see the big picture and gain a sense of direction.

However, mentorships where the younger worker becomes a mere onlooker or a useless “gofer” will prove counterproductive. Remember: With this generation, the key word is “involvement.”

“My son-in-law is in the Coast Guard, which is different from the traditional military, where you go through basic training and then they put you in a unit,” Lanza observed. “Within the Coast Guard, you spend time with a unit exploring different jobs. Do I want to be a rescue swimmer? A military police officer? A rescue-boat pilot? You’re able to sample and experience different jobs. The Coast Guard then says, ‘Great, we’ll send you to school to learn how to do that.’

“What we do is build silos and put people in them, and all they know is what’s inside that silo. And they can’t improve their growth because they don’t have the understanding of what’s around or outside of that silo.”

In other words, let your young recruits see, sample and experience different roles within your organization. Help them hone the new skills they need to take themselves and your business to even higher levels. Communicate your goals to them, and collaborate with them on theirs. Ultimately, you’ll establish mutually rewarding relationships with your next-gen employees, which, after all, is what business is all about.

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