The future-ready workforce series - Converting & retaining the next generation of talent

Wednesday, July 14, 2021 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EDT (GMT -04:00)
The future-ready workforce series: A characteristic you need in your future workforce

With today’s changing workforce, organizations face increased competition to invest in the next generation of talent. As demographic shifts see large pools of talent nearing retirement, and declining birth rates shrink the available workforce, there’s never been a more important time to bring Gen Z into your organization. Strong recruitment and engagement strategies will get emerging talent through the door - but you must figure out how to keep them. It’s time to consider how your conversion and retention strategies can help transition short-term employees or co-op students into full-time team members to build a future-ready talent pipeline.

This presentation is the third event in a multi-part Future-Ready Workforce Series from the University of Waterloo's Work-Learn Institute. It’s designed to help organizations discover how employers are converting and retaining next gen talent in today's challenging market. With access to new research insights from Waterloo experts, as well as student and employer guest speakers, this session highlights what is changing in our workforce. It also covers how organizations can use their values to motivate emerging talent at work, build a supportive, connected and loyal company culture and encourage meaningful contributions.

Checking alignment of your organizational values with the values of your next gen talent

Values matter to the next generation of talent, especially in the context of work.

In our Future Workforce Survey and Management Guide, we identified a “values gap” between Gen Z employees, their future employers and the organizations they work for. Essentially, employers struggle to identify the most important values of Gen Z – and it appears that many organizational values don’t align either.

Top three values of Gen Z employees, employers and organizations:

What students say: Gen Z values What employers say: my organizational values What employers perceive: Gen Z values
  1. Benevolence (helping friends and family)
  2. Self-direction (independent thought and management)
  3. Hedonism (having fun)
  1. Self-direction (independent thought and management)
  2. Security (being safe and in harmony with others)
  3. Universalism (tolerance for differences in the world)
  1. Hedonism (having fun)
  2. Universalism (tolerance for differences in the world)
  3. Self-direction (independent thought and management)

Almost 50% of Gen Z survey respondents said they would be unlikely to accept a full-time job that matches their skills, but not their own personal values. That’s why understanding the values of the next generation of talent – and identifying areas where your organizational values align – is an important step in improving how to recruit, motivate and retain Gen Z more effectively.

Get these values wrong and the endless cycle of employee churn continues. Get them right and you will build a talent pipeline filled with loyal employees who want to stick around. 

It’s important for organizations to keep a pulse on the alignment between next gen values and their organizational values. A lack of understanding about next gen values and what motivates them may lead to retention issues and then difficulty retaining next gen talent may leave organizations frustrated with their efforts.

Dr. Judene Pretti | Director of the Work-Learn Institute, University of Waterloo

Creating a supportive and connected company culture

There’s a lot of pressure on talent managers to find and keep the right people. Establish positive, long-term relationships and reduce hiring risks by creating a deeply supportive and connected company culture.

As our workforce changes, company culture must push beyond offering spaces where your team members can socialize and have fun. While those features are great to have at work, it’s more important to offer opportunities for people to collaborate, create and challenge one another to affect positive change.

In a job posting analysis of 37,000 co-op jobs posted on WaterlooWorks over the last three years, job descriptions with keywords linked to company culture were found to receive a higher number of applications. Overall, this meant more interest from students regarding potential work opportunities.

The top words linked to company culture that drove student interest in jobs were:

  • Collaboration
  • Challenge
  • Change
  • People
  • Social
  • Fun
  • Creative

We see our students and grads as cultural co-founders of our company. It’s very important that the students and new grads we bring in don’t just fit with our culture but that they’re able to enhance the culture – and be the light bearers of that culture – as we know that they will, in no short time, be the future leaders of our company.

Margaret Mcbeath | Director of Company Strategy, People and Culture at Nuclear Promise X

Providing meaningful work and development opportunities

When we think about employer and student perspectives during the work term, there is some potential for tension. From the student perspective, they want to contribute to the organization, but they also want to learn new skills and establish their professional network. From the employer perspective, there are new students coming in every four months and if the work they receive is not straightforward, organizations need to spend more time and resources training and supporting each new student.

One simple way to resolve the potential tension between the goals of the employer and the goals of the students: Vary the complexity and criticality of the tasks.

Ensure students have tasks that are critical to the operation of the team or unit (higher criticality), but easier to execute without error (lower complexity). Balance these tasks with work that is more challenging or complex (higher complexity), but only when they present less risk for the organization (lower criticality). Find variety across these types of tasks and establish a role where students can contribute productively to the organization and continue developing their skills.

At Waterloo, we also examined students’ Rate My Work Term responses from Winter 2021 to see if there was a correlation between student interest in returning to a co-op job or organization after graduation and the types of opportunities they were provided on their work term.

Results show that students were more likely to recommend a co-op job or organization to a friend or fellow student when they had opportunities to make meaningful contributions at work and opportunities to develop new skills. Additionally, students who received opportunities to expand their professional network and learn and develop new skills were also more likely to express interest in returning to work with a specific organization after graduation.

At the same time, students have reported fewer opportunities to expand their professional network during remote work. While the individual needs to take initiative and to reach out to make those connections, organizations have an opportunity to support early career talent by assigning mentors or creating a culture with opportunities to meet more people within the organization.

I believe offering meaningful work and a meaningful opportunity to contribute – and supporting your employees through that process – is a huge contributor to retention. In my opinion, it is something that would be the most important criteria in deciding whether to recommend a job to friends or other students or deciding whether to go back to a job myself.

Jonathan Lee | Political Science and Business Student, University of Waterloo

Watch this presentation!

This program has been approved for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours under Category A of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Log of the Human Resource Professionals Association (HRPA). You may manually log this webinar in your CPD Log.

Remote video URL

Breakout sessions

As part of this online event, University of Waterloo subject matter experts hosted two breakout sessions to further explore the key topics covered in our keynote presentation.

Formula for converting & retaining next gen talent: student panel discussion

Career coaching for supervisors: guiding professional development conversations with your student talent