What they really want: top employer of young employees shares strategies on retention

'They're not waiting in line to get their opportunity': ABB Canada HR director on hiring and keeping young employees

What they really want: top employer of young employees shares strategies on retention

How to not only hire but retain young employees has been top of mind for many HR leaders in recent years as a clear values shift becomes ever more clear.

ABB Canada has discovered some clear strategies in retaining and supporting valuable young workers in their organization. For them, creating a community where young workers can network and engage with each other has been key.

“What we can observe from the younger generation is that they are really upfront. They're not waiting in line to get their opportunity,” said Bessette.

“It's different from the other generations, that needed to meet the steps to grow into a company. Now, they're saying really out loud what they want, and even if sometimes they don't know, because they don't have any experience, at least they put their voice into what they see in the future for themselves, and currently as well.”

Young employees want clear opportunities for growth

Through robust rotational job placements and internships that give new graduates and current students chances to network, a culture of community and collaboration is formed, said Bessette. This is instrumental in retaining young talent, as it fosters a sense of community and integration with the company’s culture.

Their “discovery programs” involve long-term, permanent rotations for recent grads to experience different businesses or departments in their fields, to get a real sense of where they will fit best. This encourages growth within the organization, says Bessette.

“Younger talent are looking for what they want to do in the future. So they're trying things, they're evaluating what they like or not,” said Bessette.

“When we're providing that kind of opportunity, it creates, for them, more awareness of the direction and specialization they want to go in, or if they want to go into a leadership role eventually. So, we work with them to define their path.”

Young workers take initiative and want collaboration

In a recent initiative that saw younger employees being mentored by established employees, senior leadership gave space and resources to listen to the innovations of their newest hires in a two-way conversation.

The event was conceived and organized by a junior employee, and the company ran with it; it eventually culminated in the company’s Toastmasters group mentoring interns and new employees on public speaking. They then presented a seminar to a large group of ABB employees, including senior leadership.

Such opportunities are rarely found in larger organizations traditionally, Bessette said, but this sort of collaboration and chance to communicate and show senior leadership what they are capable of is what younger employees are seeking.  

“This is the fun part, we're able to provide this kind of environment. They're not ashamed of asking for opportunities, and we're happy to provide it to them,” said Bessette, who is the Country and Electrification Business Area Human Resource Manager of ABB Canada.

The benefits aren’t only for the employees; senior leadership is also learning to appreciate the intelligence and innovation that their younger staff have to offer, Bessette said.

“They were listening, and I could see that they were interested. They weren't there ‘just to be there’ as senior leaders, they were there because they were interested in what they had to say. So that was really, really awesome.”

Transparency is non-negotiable for retaining younger employees

Younger employees are asking questions about company values in job interviews, Bessette said, and they expect transparency from potential employers.

Not only that, but once they are hired, if they find the company isn’t what it said it was in regards to DEI, sustainability or other relevant issues, they are not afraid to leave and seek employment elsewhere.

“They're expecting respect in the workforce. They're expecting that we're transparent and equitable in terms of pay scale, salaries, but also in terms of development,” said Bessette.

“They want us to be involved. Sustainability is something really close to their heart, and we need to prove them that we are exactly what they're looking for. And transparency is the key because if we're not clear with them, and we're not honest, they will just lose faith and change companies.”

ABB Canada recently topped a national list of employers for young employees. Bessette said that a key value the company embraces which has contributed to high retention of younger employees has been authenticity, creating an environment where they can thrive, including clear advancement.

“We're trying to make sure that we understand where they're coming from, and create a kind of exchange, because our senior population has so much to offer as well,” she said.

“They’re coming from technology, they've been surrounded with different a work environment, since they were born, and I think it's really important to know that, and those two groups need to share their knowledge.”

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