Colorado companies seek advice on how to hire, work with millennials

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Photo: Millennial worker in a suit with skateboardCristine Buggeln recruits and trains new staff at the JBS meat processing company in Greeley, Colo., and she says recruiting and retaining so-called "millennial" workers can be challenging.

She's not alone. Many businesses are discovering millennials -- those aged under 33 who are sometimes also called Generation Y -- want different things out of work, and do their work differently than preceding generations, experts say.

There is a sense of urgency to get the equation right, Buggeln says.

"We’re going to have to do more and more hiring of this generation, so, the more we can understand Generation Y -- where they’re coming from -- the more we can start to transform our own organization and culture in order to appeal to them," she says.

Buggeln was one of about 80 staffers from companies in Colorado who attended a conference hosted by Colorado State University's business school this week that focused ways to hire, and retain, millenials.

In the coming decade, millennials will make up about 44 percent of Colorado's workforce, according to State Demographer Elizabeth Garner. And it’s a big generation -- much larger than Generation X, which came before it. Buggeln says that at JBS, millennials will quickly become more than entry level employees.

"We have a gap right now, really, between middle managers and that higher-level management, and it’s getting really difficult to fill," she says. "We just don’t really have enough people to step into those roles. So, for us, we’re actually trying to get more of the millennial generation into our organization and put them through more rigorous on-the-job and leadership training so they can step into management roles sooner than we’ve had people step into them in the past."

Karie Willyerd is a business executive in Fort Collins who co-wrote the bestselling book, "The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow's Employees Today."

Willyerd, who spoke Wednesday at CSU, says JBS's experience is typical.

"We're going to have to give big jobs, and big responsibility, to millennials," she says.

Willyerd has done a lot of research through the company she works for, Success Factors, into the work life of millennials and their values. She says unlike previous generations, money isn't a top important motivator.

"We found that for millennials, the number one driver for what would keep them engaged is a very clear career plan," she says.

Money ranks second, she says, but training and skill development come first.

David Burstein also spoke to the Colorado businesses, as consultant and a millennial. He wrote "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World."

"Millennials average 12 jobs by the time they’re 38," Burstein says.