Desperate for jobs maybe, but will they stay?

It might be a buyers’ market these days when it comes to hiring young people. But if organizations think that 20-somethings are more likely to stay put, they might be mistaken.

With their high expectations and their willingness to explore options, young workers are still demanding to be engaged. If organizations want to hang on to them, said some labour market observers, they should take a close look at what they offer in training and advancement opportunities — and early on.

Catherine Loughlin, a University of Toronto management professor who has studied young workers’ values and attitudes, said young people today have almost unrealistic expectations about work and life opportunities.

As a result, they may enter the workforce with enthusiasm but are soon overwhelmed by feelings of disillusion and betrayal, she said in a recent presentation on young workers.

Citing a 2001 study of Canadian youths aged 15 to 24, Loughlin said they generally hold unrealistically high expectations: 90 per cent expect to get the job they want when they graduate; 60 per cent expect to stay in the same career for life; and more than 70 per cent believe anyone who works hard will rise to the top. She added that young people base their values on their parents’ work experiences, which can lead to some distrust in corporations because many of them saw their parents struggle through difficult economic times in the 1990s.

These high expectations might not be apparent to recruiters, particularly in the current job market, which new graduates find tough to break into, said Mark Laurie, co-founder of, a student job board.

“A few years ago, it was, ‘Show me your stock options.’ These days, it’s, ‘Show me my desk.’ They just want their foot in the door so they can get experience.”

At his own company, for example, one double-major business and computer science graduate was content to land a job in the mailroom.

But Laurie noted that this initial desperation to land the first job doesn’t necessarily translate to greater loyalty. “Law school and MBA enrolment is higher than ever. This might be because after a few years, young people find that they’re not happy with their career or their jobs aren’t what they were looking for so they decide to go back to school.”

And young people who hold degrees have more job options than ever, he added. “The educated ones might switch jobs more than before.”

In a survey of about 200 workers in their 20s and early 30s, Shelley Smith of D-Code, a strategy and research firm focused on the information age generation, found young people are looking for lateral mobility at work.

“They’re looking at breadth not depth as a form of advancement. They’re looking for different job assignments, job rotations and multi-disciplinary opportunities to develop and apply their skills. And that’s good for organizations because diversity of experience builds better outcomes,” said Smith.

At Career Edge, the cross-country private non-profit youth internship program, president Lucille Joseph agreed that training opportunities would go some distance in keeping young workers engaged and interested.

“Companies should give them more exposure to opportunities to learn and grow, but informal and unstructured opportunities are often more important to young people than structured career paths,” said Joseph.

In part influenced by the pop-culture notion that you are your own brand, and you develop your own skill sets, the young people she encounters at the internship program tend to be entrepreneurial in their approach to their careers, said Joseph.

“They don’t rely on their degree, they don’t rely on the employer. They are very eager to calibrate themselves and to gain skills so that they’ll be marketable, and they’re willing to do this in an unstructured process. They want exposure to do different things.”

Organizations that want to tap into this initiative should explore programs like job rotation or coaching, Joseph suggested.

“Companies that work out well with new grads make sure that someone like a coach is looking out for them and giving them feedback. This is not common in many organizations anymore, but an ‘assistant to’ role can be interesting to young people, like if they’re assigned to someone who’ll say, ‘Come along to this meeting with me and sit with me as we discuss this.’ It keeps young people engaged and interested.”

Aside from these suggestion, she said workers of all ages just want good HR: give solid feedback, recognize successes and help people see how they contribute to the company.

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