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Who Comes Next

Author: Alexandra Russell
November, 2016 Issue

Last year, the NorthBay biz office underwent a demographic shift. It started in September 2015 with the hiring of Brian Barrett, a Chipotle-obsessed Sonoma State University student, who joined our team as a sales executive. In October, Barrett was joined by 20-somethings Administrative Assistant Daniel Soto, Deputy Editor William Rohrs and Associate Editor Sarah Treseler. Suddenly, the old guard was working alongside millennials. Ever since, the entire office has been on a learning curve, working through the kinks as both ends of the generation gap seek middle ground. We’re not alone.

Millennials are entering the workforce in record numbers and, when combined with surging retirement rates due to baby boomers (and some lucky Gen Xers), this new generation is poised to become the largest group on payroll in most industries. This shift brings both challenges and opportunities, as long-established rules and protocols necessarily bend to fit new skillsets and expectations.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, as of 2015, more than one-in-three American workers is now a millennial (age 19 to 35). This is changing the way business gets done. According to Pew, that’s because “millennials have a drastically different outlook on what they expect from their employment experience”—a fact alluded to by calling it an “employment experience,” as opposed to a job or career.

An article from the Ivey Business Journal states, “Millennials are well-educated, skilled in technology, very self-confident, able to multi-task and have plenty of energy. They have high expectations for themselves and prefer to work in teams, rather than as individuals. Millennials seek challenges, yet work-life balance is of utmost importance to them. They do, however, realize that their need for social interaction, immediate results in their work and desire for speedy advancement may be seen as weaknesses by older colleagues.”

Generalize much? What we’ve learned here at NorthBay biz is that, just like any individual, each millennial brings his or her own disposition to their position. In this issue, we’re taking a closer look at this next wave of workers—what attracts, motivates and excites them when it comes to making as living. In addition to articles examining the challenges faced by local companies trying to attract, retain and promote younger employees, we’ve also identified some notable North Bay residents we think will make a big impact in the years to come.

Hiring challenges

If we want the North Bay to remain a strong and vibrant economy, we’re going to have to attract not just millennials, but also address the changing nature of work—for everyone. That means identifying what employees really want, not only in terms of salary and benefits, but also when it comes to things like flexible schedules, pet-friendly offices and other customizable perks. The biggest stumbling block, though, continues to be the North Bay’s dearth of housing options.

As an HR consulting firm based in Santa Rosa, our clients often share with us the hiring challenges they’re experiencing in today’s market,” says Karen Alary of the Personnel Perspective. “These include very low unemployment, which results in lack of qualified talent. Our counties aren’t keeping pace with U.S. gains on postsecondary educational attainment, which impacts our businesses, and average earnings aren’t keeping up with housing costs in our region. When we’re recruiting for a client, we often need to look outside the North Bay to fill management and professional positions.”

Debi Geller, business development manager for the Marin office of Nelson Staffing and a member of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce board of directors, agrees: “I’ve seen first-hand the challenges local companies face when trying to attract talent. While there are qualified candidates here in the North Bay, the rising cost of living has made it more difficult to attract talent—and this tends to have a disproportionate impact on younger workers. Unless new college grads move back to the area to stay with their parents, they may be drawn by the lifestyle and slightly higher salaries in larger cities like San Francisco. As competition for talent increases, companies are offering untraditional perks and recruiting more via word of mouth [often using social media].”

As an award-winning community bank, we do our best to promote all the reasons we’re an attractive employer,” says Roni Brown, vice president and marketing director at Summit State Bank. “This includes competitive salaries, a robust benefits package, tuition reimbursement, incentives for employees who refer qualified candidates for open positions and ‘take your dog to work day,’ to mention a few. We’ve been fortunate enough to attract local talent thus far. However, the biggest challenge today—and into the foreseeable future—is the lack of affordable housing and natural resources, such as water and land, that continue to limit new housing construction.”

“It’s essential that we increase the housing stock,” agrees Frank Chong, superintendent and president of Santa Rosa Junior College. “For many of our faculty and staff, it’s difficult to buy a house—and, in some cases, even to rent. We’re exploring public/private partnerships that can help us build residence halls to lessen the need.”

I think something will have to change with housing availability or costs to make living here more accessible, thus ensuring we have enough people for the number of jobs available,” says Jessica Taylor, a manager at Sonoma County Job Link. “But with some focused effort, I think we can build the right workforces for the needs we can see today.”

Says Jeff Ahlers, president and CEO of La Tortilla Factory, “We use a variety of resources to recruit, both within the North Bay and outside the area, but the best resource is still networking. It’s all about who you know, and we’ve launched an internal bonus program to promote referrals. Recruiting within Sonoma County continues to be a challenge for all businesses; we’re finding that qualified talent is already employed and the market is hypercompetitive, so we’re using creative sourcing techniques and having to customize the hiring experience for each position.”

North Bay allure

Ahlers notes that the North Bay, itself, can be a successful selling tool: “Keep Sonoma County interesting and relevant to [prospective employees],” he says. “Provide affordable housing, work/life balance, extra-curricular activities such as music, art and food. In our opinion, La Tortilla Factory does a great job blending our Sonoma County roots with the opportunity to get involved and participate in everything the North Bay has to offer. We also provide internal succession planning and educational opportunities for employees to take their career to the next level.”

Ken Fischang, CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, agrees. “Sonoma County has worked to preserve its natural beauty as a destination, which is the number one reason visitors come to experience our amazing place on this planet,” he says. “The same reasons that attract visitors to come here again and again is why young workers want to live and work here and call this beautiful place home. As an employer in Sonoma County, we show that we care about our employees by offering competitive and creative benefits and salaries.”

In Marin, Geller says, “Proximity to the social and cultural assets of the entire Bay Area and a more affordable cost of living than many other regions, [means our area has] many perks to offer young workers. There are a few additions employers can make, though. As housing continues to increase in cost, and competition for rentals and real estate becomes even more intense, workers moving to the area are expressing more interest in companies that offer workforce housing assistance, from relocation bonuses to referral to local management companies with priority placement assistance. If talent can’t afford to work here or can’t find housing once they arrive, they won’t stay long.

“The other thing companies can do is help make workers’ commutes easier,” she continues. “Even if you can’t afford a private shuttle, offering commuter benefits or scheduling flexibility to accommodate public transportation schedules or high-volume traffic patterns is helpful. Try setting up a casual carpool program or even partnering with other local companies to offer options.”

Redefining the workplace

Another way to attract talented new employees is to evolve a traditional office setup to accommodate more flexible schedules, collaborative workgroups and unexpected perks. “There’s been quite a bit of recent news coverage on untraditional employment perks, like free food, gym memberships, and even pet-friendly days—and for good reason, as these extras do get noticed,” says Geller. “However, it’s also important to understand that younger generations are looking for more than just unlimited vacation.”

A recent Gallup poll found that millennials value a good work/life balance, the opportunity to progress into leadership roles and flexibility in scheduling and location, in addition to a more traditional compensation package.

“The other way companies can attract unique talent is through existing professional networks, because the average worker is connected to many potential new employees via social media [including on Facebook and LinkedIn, among others]. At Nelson, we take advantage of that by making it easy for our employees to spread hiring messages to their networks. The result is a constantly expanding funnel of potential candidates for our open roles and those at our many various partner companies.”

Michael Haney of Sonoma County Vintners sees recruitment as an opportunity to identify not just mastered skills, but also the potential for growth. “Companies that engage employees strengths, position them for success, assist them in continuing education and provide responsibilities and professional duties that motivate, inspire and provide an employee with a feeling of ‘ownership’ or a sense of community importance will retain employees more easily and excel in recruiting new employees as well,” he says. “Training programs that address technical skills as well as creative development, team building activities and opportunities, employee sponsored community involvement and developing a work culture that promotes and rewards teamwork, positive employee communication and outstanding customer appreciation can, surveys indicate, go a long way to increase ‘long-term service.’”

Says Taylor, “I think [employers have to] make sure they’re listening and responding to what young workers are saying, and pay attention to the trends attracting young people into certain careers or locations. Try to understand what’s drawing them, and try to adapt where possible. [Sonoma County Job Link] has a tremendous amount of training, development and mentorship opportunities, and young adults who are looking for a long-term opportunity to help people or work in office settings appreciate that.”

But, she cautions, “There are a lot of young people that aren’t looking for long term career choices—yet—but who will still enjoy learning opportunities and appreciate competitive wages for entry level positions.”

At Nelson, says Geller, “We offer a variety of benefits to keep the best and the brightest workers with our company, including commuter benefits, competitive pay and a vast assortment of other benefits—traditional health plans, a health savings account, pet insurance and discounts on new car purchases. We also promote from within whenever possible to ensure workers, earlier in their career, that they have a clear pathway to leadership positions should they choose to pursue them. We provide opportunities for employees at every stage of their career to collaborate and learn from each other. This allows younger workers to benefit from the mentorship of more experienced workers.” And, conversely, offers older workers the opportunity to hear new ideas and viewpoints.

What makes a leader?
As we move into the profiles of our identified Leaders of Tomorrow, we asked our panel of business and community leaders to name traits they view as necessary to building success today and in the future. Despite the various fields represented, their answers were remarkably similar.

Says SCV’s Haney, “The young professionals I observe have an enthusiastic open mindedness. They enjoy exploring new ideas and have a new way of looking at consumers, customer service and customer communication. With rapidly developing technology’s potential impact on business, [they’re] questioning how services and programs have been done in the past, but are also looking to adapt or develop ideas and services that will contribute to outstanding customer service and increased business efficiency.”

When I chaired the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce board of directors, I championed the addition of a seat on the board for the YPN [Young Professionals Network] chairperson,” says local attorney Bill Arnone. “The explosive growth of YPN proved a need for professional networking opportunities for young adults in Santa Rosa. In addition, my first position on the Chamber board was as chair of the Leadership Santa Rosa steering committee, which has always been a great training ground for future leaders.”

It’s the sharing of disparate ideas that offers the greatest opportunity for growth—both in business and in life. Of the dynamic young people she’s encountered, Geller says, “What they have in common is they all have mentors from whom they can learn. They ask questions, observe and mirror the success of their role models. They’re also insatiably curious, constantly displaying a desire to learn and improve. To do this, they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and ‘do the dirty work’—taking on tasks that are outside their specific job description or skillset to facilitate the advancement of their team or company. That can-do attitude and dedication is hugely indicative of fortitude and future career success.”

One of the most common ways for recent graduates and younger employees to gain experience is though internships, and it’s also a way for established companies find talented additions to their teams.For years, we’ve employed paid interns from SRJC and Sonoma State University,” says Summit State’s Brown. “It’s encouraging to have some of the brightest young adults working with us, even if only for a short time—though some have decided to stay once graduated.”

In some instances, multiple organizations work together to nurture up-and-coming talent. “We work with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and we have a new intern as part of our Sonoma County Tourism team each year,” says Fischang. “We’re continually impressed with the quality of the EDB’s intern program participants.”

Maybe that sentiment is what we all need to take away from this examination: the knowledge that no single generation, organization or individual will usher in the next wave of North Bay success. It’s up to all of us—together—to define the future.


In this Issue

Rebuilding Better

Building a new house can be challenging—especially if it’s something you didn’t plan for or expect. It’s a scenario facing thousands of families in Northern California who lo...

Starting Over

Last October, Sonoma County experienced a natural disaster of epic proportions. Many people perished when tens of thousands of acres were ravaged by a firestorm. At least 4,655 homes were destroyed ...

Getting Back to Business

The October fires blew in on gale-force winds devouring with little discrimination thousands of homes both humble and grand and numbers of businesses large and small. Burning to the ground with equa...

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