What Owners Need to Know About Millennials and Gen Z – Leah Gulliver

What Owners Need to Know About Millennials and Gen Z - Leah Gulliver

Maine has a challenge in keeping young people here in the state. But as owners and employers, we can do our part to keep them here, or get them to return after college. What they need is opportunity.

But are there challenges in finding, hiring, and managing a young person? Leah Gulliver from Eastern Maine Development Corporation joins us this week to talk about the benefits of keeping young people here in Maine and what you can do to help.

Rich: Our guest today was born and raised in the Bangor area where she currently lives with her family. She started her career in public service, working in various roles, developing a love for the community. As the Assistant Director of Workforce Services, she leads a team at Eastern Maine Development Corporation, focused on strengthening Maine’s economy by building a robust workforce in collaborating with local businesses and organizations to meet the needs of our changing economy.

EMDC’s Workforce Development division offers one-on-one employment coaching, customized training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged individuals and dislocated workers. Her personal passion for showing young people opportunities in Maine is her driving force, taking care of businesses with the next workforce.

We’re looking forward to diving into what business owners need to know about keeping young people in Maine with Leah Gulliver. Leah, welcome to the podcast.

Leah: Thank you. Thanks for having me on. Excited for the opportunity.

Yury: Well we are excited to discover the opportunities that can be presented by your organization and the work that you’re doing. So Leah, my question is what does a typical day look like for the Assistant Director of Workforce Services at EMDC, and how has that changed during COVID?

Leah: Sure. So COVID has really sped things up for us. We are definitely ramping up all of our registrations in services. We shifted to offering a more virtual platform so we have a lot of offerings with the customers that we work with that we’ve actually decided to do remotely. And really there was just a slight pause, but after that we just kept rolling. So we’ve done a lot of work that way. And you know, the other services that EMDC offers are also working to meet the needs of the change here with all of the COVID. You may have seen the business lending that we’ve been working on and things like that.

So it’s all connected. All of it connects back to workforce and helping people to get back to work or to start new careers. And that’s all a really exciting prospect for us, but certainly it’s very busy. A typical day for me, well I make a lot of contact with the customers that I help. I make a lot of contact with our staff to help them to help the customers that we’re working on. And we’re always trying to find some new, innovative ideas so that we can partner with more organizations. We don’t think that we need to reinvent anything. We think there are a lot of places doing good things, so we rely on each other and that collaboration.

Yury: This is exciting. Leah, are there any particular success metrics or success benchmarks that you have for yourself that you try to improve month after month or year after year?

Leah: Do you mean personally, or as an organization? Because I think that those things are pretty close, but maybe a little different.

Yury: Well, this is a question to you, and whatever seems more important.

Leah: Absolutely. So for us as an organization, we’re always looking to ring that job bell. So we really want to see people getting into new jobs that they love. We love hearing from our customers who are actually in follow-up, who tell us all about how they’ve really developed in this job, they’ve blossomed in the job. Maybe they’ve gotten a promotion, that really drives us all to keep working really hard and stay connected.

Personally, I think that I really enjoy talking with my customers on a day to day. I love the challenge that this job comes with. Helping them to work through hard things, helping to explain things that they might not understand. And I think that’s really the key. It’s all about people, we’re all about people.

Rich: Leah, I discovered your message because I’m subscribed to the EMDC newsletter. And there was a section in there talking about keeping young people here in Maine, which piqued my interest, which is why I reached out to you. Why do you feel it’s so critical to keep young people here in the state?

Leah: Yeah. So I think that we’re all pretty aware of where we stand in terms of the age of our demographics and our population. And what that means for us is that it’s really critical that we’re keeping people in Maine who are in Maine, that we’re attracting new people to Maine. And all of that starts with trying to develop this robust workforce and keeping them all here. So I think that that’s really key to that.

When it comes to me, personally, I love where we live. And I think that it’s a little known secret that we have all of these great industries, all of the small businesses that are working hard every day that really make up this culture that we have here. And I think that it’s lost if we’re not keeping people in it. So I think that that’s really important.

Yury: Leah, the question that I have, and it bothered me as a “millennial”, there is this notion that young people are not necessarily hard working or they have a significant list of demands that they want to see fulfilled before they commit themselves to doing the great things. What do you say to business owners and the leaders who hold that opinion?

Leah: I’m glad that you brought that up. Because it does tie into, how do you attract young people to your business? A lot of young people have this perception that everyone out there assumes that they’re not going to be hardworking, which really to someone who’s just starting out. Do you think that that’s motivating or do you think that that means why bother? So I think it’s really important for us to think about that you should be adapting and that adaptation has to do with, how do you speak to people? How do you attract the people that you’re looking to bring in? And if that’s kind of the colloquialism that you’re bringing into it, that that’s your mindset, then your expectations are going to bring about those results.

So I think it’s really important that you look at this from a different avenue. The younger generations will always communicate differently than older generations. That’s important to recognize, it’s also important to adjust to. Their level of work and what they’re putting into work has everything to do with their connections on the job. Everyone wants to feel connected to the community where they are. No one stays for a job. People stay because they feel connected where they are. And so being able to speak to a young person from your own perspective, think of it as mentoring. This is an opportunity to train someone into what you want them to be. Don’t expect that they’re going to graduate from high school or from college in going into their first or second job and know exactly how to be the most professional all the time. They need to build those soft skills, and that takes a lot of time. And I think as we get older, it’s actually harder for us to remember that. Where did we start? What did we do for mistakes and missteps? That’s actually harder for us to think about. So I think that it’s really important that we keep that in mind.

Rich: So all of that’s great, but what is EMD sees a role in all this specific to, to keeping young people in Maine and then how do your policies then support young people?

Leah: Absolutely. So young people ages 16 to 24 are priority service for us. So we have a way to look for those customers, but also we guide them through specific soft skill training. So we have a seven week course that we enroll young people in that comes with a hands-on work experience where we partner with local businesses. We cover the wages and they get to learn a little bit on the job.

Then a couple days a week they’re in a classroom with us right now, that’s virtual, and we’re talking about workplace behavior. We’re talking to them about how do you present yourself public speaking, what do you need to be prepared for. We’re giving them a little bit of financial literacy coaching. We’re trying to better prepare them for their next steps. And they could really use the extra help of that hands-on work experience with businesses in the area and organizations, too. It doesn’t have to be a business, it could be a non-profit organization as well. So that’s how we help. And then we guide them into what their next steps are. So if that’s job search or school, we’ll do that too.

Rich: And so how did you develop that Academy to train young people? Did you speak to owners in the community and ask them what they were looking for, what the shortcomings were with some of the younger generation in terms of employment skills? I mean, soft skills. It’s an interesting thing to focus on here because you know, you think that there’s so much pressure on STEM skills these days and other harder skills. Like, you’re focusing on things I do agree are important, but how did that all come about?

Leah: Yeah. So we have conversations with business owners on a regular basis, and we look to find out what do they need for us to be able to bring about? So coming up with customized trainings and things like that is also something that we do that we will offer. But we really heard from a lot of business owners that said we need people who will show up on time, who will be ready to work, and who will really give their full efforts in their job.

And so we took that as a mindset approach, really. We need to talk with the people who are getting ready for these jobs so that they know what skills they need to build to have that already. So being able to plan ahead. One of the students that we worked with in the previous cohorts said to us, “You know, I’m realizing now that my work day doesn’t start the day I’m scheduled. It starts the night before.” So it’s really coming up with those processes to help them really pull out the pieces.

And a lot of that isn’t taught, you know, we have to recognize that a lot of kids now, as they’re growing up, they aren’t making the time to start working their first jobs when they’re 15. So that really changes a lot for them. They may graduate and not have their license right away. All of that really changes the way that they view the world and those soft skills need experience and education.

Yury: Is there anything in particular that the employers recognize the most in the students that come out of that training that they just like, “Oh, wow. I wish more of our current employees would have the same type of mindsets or the skills that the younger employees bring to those companies”?

Leah: What we hear often is that there’s an energy with young people. They will come in with new ideas if they feel like it’s an environment where they can offer that. We hear that often. Our cohorts – we’ve only had two so far – so a lot of them are still working on their next steps, their school, things like that. But what we hear most is that they really appreciate that energy that they’re bringing into that job. I think that it has a lot of value when they are working on that soft skill and they might make mistakes, but offering them a little forgiveness along the way, too. I think that they feel that they’re more prepared.

Rich: Leah, are there certain industries that EMDC focuses on here in Maine?

Leah: So we do focus on high wage, high demand industries, and that list changes over time. We do look at that in terms of growth, we look at that in terms of job openings, we look at that in terms of wages. So we use Department of Labor information to help us to make those determinations. We also look at what’s going on locally in the region where that person lives. So we are spread out into several different areas. So what works in Bangor may not work in Skowhegan. So we will look at different areas to try to consider what’s probable for this person. And sometimes they actually will come to us with an idea for the job they want, and they just need training in order to get it. They already know the business and the connection that they want. And so we’ll actually look at that and see if that makes sense as well.

Rich: For those people who may not have that idea in place, what at the end of 2020 are some of those high wage, high demand jobs that you’re finding placements for.

Leah: So healthcare is in large demand right now. And that is one of those tricky situations where with COVID, it’s very hard to bring people in to start training without having a direct hire and all of that. So we prepare them for that. We offer customized trainings. Like, we put together a medical administrative assistant training, which allows someone to pass a national certification to be ready as like a patient representative working for hospitals or medical organizations. So they’re learning some medical terminology, they’re getting prepared for that. They’re learning a little bit about what kind of computer skills they might need to have on that job as well. We see a lot of transfer from personal support workers or CNAs going into that kind of field. We also look for other opportunities like skilled labor.

We know that we have a workforce who’s ready to retire. So we want to look at opportunities to bring about some skilled labor. We want to look at some IT opportunities. So there’s lots of different avenues that we try to consider, but those have been some mainstays for us.

Yury: How does the owner start a relationship with EMDC?

Leah: They can call me, that’s the best way. Give me a call 207-991-0580, and we can talk about it. We can talk about how we might be able to work together, and also if you’re not aware of the other services that EMDC has, I can make that connection for you, too, so that you are a little more aware of what we might be able to help you with.

We do have some business owners who will reach out every time that they have a job opening. And even if it’s not someone that we have ready to go for them to go into that position, we will certainly promote those positions with the people that we work with as well, and then you get a little more word of mouth.

Yury: How big is the current pool of potential candidates for placements? I guess what I’m trying to ask is, do you have a number in mind, like the demand, the number of people that needs to be currently placed versus the number you’re currently working with for potential placement?

Leah: So the numbers changing all the time because the program’s very individualized. So you may have a group of students who comes through the Workforce Academy in a cohort that could be 7- 14 students. Depending on when we put that together, those students will need work experience placements beyond that.

They may also need to look for a direct hire job. And the timing of all of that is based on the individual. So you could have 10 people go through the Academy, three of them are going off full-time to school. Then you have seven who are looking at some part-time work, and then maybe that shifts into full-time work. And then everyone has slightly different schedule. So it changes on a regular basis.

We also have other programs. So we do have adults and people who’ve come to us as dislocated workers, which means that they at one point were unemployed. So we do have, a candidate pool of people who are looking for job placements as well. Many of them are going through training first. We have a lot of CDL drivers who go through training with us and then look for some opportunities locally. So there’s a lot of different opportunities there, and it is a little different as far as who we have for job seekers based at any given point.

Yury: Awesome, thank you. The follow-up to it, we talked about a little bit about training. This seven week Academy that you guys have, has it changed since we’ve been in this environment of constant COVID, or shifting the way we being trained and transitioning to a digital space? How do you guys adjust to it and how do your trainees participate or continue their training programs?

Leah: Yes. So we actually used to have a program that we offered in person a little while ago called Career Compass. And that program actually stopped for a little bit when there were some challenges to workforce funding and their bringing it back. We had planned to do that in person and were planning to do that in March of this past year. So we shifted to offer it virtually through Zoom. So once we were all really comfortable with Zoom and understood what the parameters were, how could we deliver this? How can we keep people engaged? Then we decided to go ahead and offer that digitally. And actually we’ve seen that younger people are much more comfortable with it then the rest, it hasn’t been that tricky to keep them engaged, which is really great. It’s really great.

Some of the challenges are access to internet, that’s really been a big challenge. So we’ve been looking at that and ways that we can help either partner with resources or look for resources to help them meet that need, at least for a period of time. We’ve looked at a computer lending library that we have that we partnered with another agency for to offer us that opportunity. So we can offer them a laptop where they have the camera. We know that it’s capable of working on Zoom and they can still use the screen shares and things like that.

Rich: So I want to circle back around to the whole idea of hiring young people and keeping them here in the state. And it sounded like there are some owners out there that might have been either burned in the past, or they have some preconceived notion about what a millennial workforce looks like. If I’m open to this, what are some things that I can do to be more open to hiring young people? Are there changes in the way that I put together my job applications, are there changes in who I work with to attract these people? What other things can I do to attract a younger workforce, to make sure that there are jobs here in Maine for students who are graduating from high school or college here in the state?

Leah: Absolutely. So some of this is kind of general and business owners may have heard this before, but adapting to the mobile technology is really crucial. And I know that there’s a cost to that, but there may also be a big payoff. Understanding that a lot of young people do everything from their phones. Email communication is something that doesn’t come through as quickly when you’re working with young people, so recognizing that. Also telephone communication is a little different now as well. Voicemail systems, things like that are not something that a lot of young people are used to using. So while we do want our next generation to adapt to some of the ways that we do things, we also want to look at that approach and say, what can I adapt to as a business owner? What do I have the ability to, that’s not going to interrupt too much of my own business? If you’re able to do that, that will really be helpful.

So being able to put your applications into a mobile platform that they can be used on a smartphone, being able to send out maybe a text scheduling system or something to schedule an interview that actually may get more of a response than trying to make phone calls. And some people may already be working or in school and they can’t pick up the phone, so that would be another thing that I would suggest.

I think also if you’re not used to having young people on staff, I think that it’s important to approach your scheduling and really consider is the schedule that I’m looking for is something that young people would likely be able to do. If you’re advertising a schedule that’s really set in stone and they’re relying on someone else for transportation, that will be a challenge. So knowing that and really approaching that.

Sometimes I find that business owners might not be all that in touch with what’s going out from HR. So if you have an advertisement that’s posted, that ad may be very well-written for someone who has a very high reading level, who’s used to technical and professional writing who sees the experience required as, “Okay, I’m going to go ahead and apply”. When a young person sees that and they see ‘experience preferred’ or ‘experience required’, they’re not going to apply because they don’t see their experience as transferable as the rest of us might. So I think that that’s one way that you can kind of broaden the people that you’re having come to you, and that will allow you to make better selections as you go forward.

Yury: This is very insightful, listening to you. I feel like I was just a one track mind, and now this is definitely a new domain. Something to think about.

And speaking about thinking about different things, once we have a young person hired or a young person on the team, what are the things that we can do as business leaders, business owners or managers, to help them continue to develop personally as well as professionally? And ultimately, are there any particular recommendations that we as managers should think about the ways that we should continue to develop in order to be this supporting guide or a trusted advisor and the mentor?

Leah: So I really appreciate the way that you ended that with a mentor, because that’s exactly how I would answer that. So a lot of young people say to us that everyone wants us to be really forthcoming, they want to know everything about us. They want to be honest, but they don’t want to tell us anything about them. So having more of that open communication, understanding that they may need to know what your route was like. Did you have a straight path? Very few of us do, so understanding that you’ve made mistakes before or that you were starting out from square one before that, can really help so that they know that it is a place where they’re free to offer their ideas, but also to be able to learn a little. That’s important, and looking at them as having a guide, having a mentor.

So I would even suggest if it’s possible that they have someone that they know they can talk to that will walk them through the process. So a lot of young people may start a full-time job – and just imagine this, if you will – you’re in your twenties, you’ve never had health insurance before, and you sit down with human resources and you see the package and you’re given the information sometimes in the way that we communicate, we expect that they have a baseline of knowledge and they will ask the question. They’re sitting on the other side of the desk and they’re saying, “Well, I think that they’ll tell me if I need to know this”. So there’s a breakdown in this communication. There’s a gap there. So always assume that over explaining may be better received when it comes to helping people who are just starting out.

Yury: I honestly think it’s just a good recommendation in general. Over explaining and over communicating I don’t think hurt anyone ever.

Rich: Especially when it comes to saving for retirement.

Leah: Exactly.

Rich: This has been great, Leah. We have a question that we like to ask all our guests, and I want to pose it to you. What one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Leah: Yeah. So I think that I am someone who’s so close to this that my answer is going to be real literal. So I would broaden the broadband access and I would offer some sort of really workable transportation system in the rural areas. I think that would really be key.

Rich: Definitely great advice.

Yury: Awesome. Leah, for those who are interested in the program, and I’m sure we have a lot of listeners who would like to explore the opportunity presented after these conversations, where can they find you or what is the best resource that they should go and check out?

Leah: Sure. So our website offers a lot of information and that’s emdc.org. You’ll find a lot of tabs across the top there talking about our services, and then there’s a Workforce tab that can offer you a little more information. You can email me directly at lgulliver@emdc.org, or you can give me a call at 991-0580.

Yury: That is fantastic. Thank you so much, Leah. We appreciate your time and thank you for joining Fast Forward Maine podcast.

Leah: Thank you for having me.

Rich: Wow, great stuff from Leah. Cannot believe all the stuff that EMDC is doing. I’m so glad I somehow subscribed to their email newsletter and found them. If you like what Leah had to say, but maybe you wanted to listen to it again or read the full transcript or check out those links in the phone number that you mentioned, we’ve got all that available at our website. Just head on over to fastforwardmaine.com/69.

And now we come to the part of the program where we each talk about our ‘fast takes’, our big takeaway from the day. So Yury, what was your ‘fast take’?

Yury: The ‘fast take’ from today’s episode is, and I think it’s not just today’s episode it’s in general and the important recommendation for all of us. Over communicating, over explaining and adding a little bit of transparency in all of that leads to great results. And the reason I was slowing down the delivery of this message, I just want to make sure that it sinks in because sometimes we just get caught up in the minutia and we forget about the important things. Staying relevant, being human, supporting each other. And those things, communicating, transparency and explanation, goes a long way. So that’s my ‘fast take’, Rich. What is your ‘fast take’?

Rich: I think there was a lot of good content there about how to open yourself up to young employees and the ability to mentor. But my ‘fast take’ was the fact that EMDC has this program in place that not only trains young people in those soft skills that are so important today, but also that they’re literally going to pay the wages. And I’m sure there’s some caveats around there, but they’re going to pay the wages of those people as they scale up in your organization. Obviously there’s got to be a limit on time and things like that, but if you’ve been concerned about bringing on people who maybe have a little less experience, maybe a little bit rough around the edges, this is a great opportunity to ‘try before you buy’, so to speak. And I would recommend that every business owner in Maine who’s looking to grow, reach out to EMDC and find out more about this program.