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    January 26, 2009

    Hire, Train and Retain Gen Yers Now!

    As a freshman in college, I watched seniors get picked up in limos and driven to "interviews" where they were offered double digit signing bonuses, corporate credit cards, and all kinds of other "perks." This was at the height of the dotcom bubble. When I graduated college 4 years later, I applied for an internship at PBS' New Hour With Jim Lehrer. It paid a tiny stipend and was basically the "when I say get coffee, you go get it" position. The hiring manager told me that he really liked me, and in most years, he would have hired me, but apparently, I was competing with four lawyers and 3 PhDs. The job market sucked that year.

    Recently, the job market has moved past "sucking" to "sucks on steroids" and many in my generation, having just recently sighed a sigh of relief that the tech bubble bursting was over and jobs were aplenty, are having unwelcome flashbacks.

    With more than 2.5 million jobs lost in the U.S. economy in the last year, competition for those positions that are open is sure to be fierce.

    The nonprofit world has not been spared-many organizations have laid off, cutback, frozen programs, and hunkered down. Often, when looking for places to cut, the lower ranks of any organization are the "natural" place to look. These layers are often filled but bright-eyed, eager, and perhaps, even slightly disillusioned Gen Yers.

    While we all have to tighten our belts, I would urge nonprofits to think twice about laying off their younger workers, and why some may even think about doing something completely heretical in this kind of economic environment-hiring more Gen Yers!

    As a recent Economist article notes, Gen Yers, or "The Neg Geners" as the article calls us, are having a tough time out there in the workplace.

    "The global downturn has been a brutal awakening for the youngest members of the workforce... According to America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate among people in their 20s increased significantly in the two most recent recessions in the United States."

    Apparently, this is creating all kinds of problems for management: "dissatisfaction is growing as crisis-hit firms adopt more of a command-and-control approach to management—the antithesis of the open, collaborative style that young workers prefer. Less autonomy and more directives have sparked complaints among Net Geners that offices and factories have become 'pressure cookers' and 'boiler rooms'."

    Maybe Gen Yers should just stop our whining? But what is a rude awakening to my generation, may be a boon for nonprofits.

    Consider this: According to an article in On Philanthropy "A 2004 survey of some 2,200 nonprofit organizations by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that roughly 65% anticipated a change in top leadership by 2009. At the time of the survey, more than half of executive directors were 50 or older." Charities are facing a leadership vacuum. Give us an opportunity to grow into the space.

    I wrote here before about how Gen Yers can help nonprofits through the recession as volunteers and donors, but, we can also turn out to be pretty useful as employees:
    • Now, more than ever, nonprofits can give someone the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility, truly show their abilities. Sure, this may require mentoring by already over-worked top brass, but the long-term pay off--organizational loyalty and leadership development--may turn out to be priceless. And you can pay us less to do so.
    • Now, more than ever, is the time to listen to your Gen Yers. We are full of ideas to do more with less. With college loans, low pay, and huge happy hour tabs, we are experts at making meager funds stretch. Maybe you don't need to buy us a laptop cause we'd be willing to bring it ours. Or maybe, even though you hired the guy to be your network admin, he happens to dabble in web design on the side and he can step in to help with that. We could re-set all the printers to print double-sided. We are flexible like that. Some like to call it ADD.
    • We are cost-effective. Consider how much money your organization spends on things like electricity, cubicles, offices, who knows what else. Gen Yers are very flexible. We are happy to work at home. Happy to call into conferences. Happy to work on weird schedules.
    • On the cost-effective part, there are loads of us who decided to go to business school, or law school, or some other graduate school during the last downturn, right around 2003. And we are now graduating in droves. You could get a very educated person, who really wants a job, at a price you could never imagine!
    • You have much to offer us. You can teach us how to do good in the world. You can show us how to be passionate about what you do every day and make it count. Yours is the only industry that still has anything that resembles pension plans, or 35 hour workweeks. We might chance it for a chance at "work/life" balance.

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