Workforce Generation Y

As Baby Boomers begin considering retirement, employers are often faced with the cumbersome task of replenishing their workforce with the young and somewhat restless Generation Y. This month IRP looks at how brokerage Milne Alexander has captured the loyalty of this famously finicky generation of workers.

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Changing work models

Having spent their childhood being ferried to after school activities in the back of 4WDs, playing on the latest gaming console, Gen Y had arguably the most materially blessed upbringing of any generation. As the world around them experienced a period of significant economic growth, however, their entry to adulthood was framed by the uncertainty and insecurity of the looming global financial crisis.

Education no longer guaranteed employment, neither did years of loyalty. Gen Y watched Boomer parents lose jobs they’d spent decades climbing the ladder to attain. Retirement plans were put on hold as companies scrambled to recoup loses at the expense of middle management.

This rude awakening shaped the incoming generation’s approach to their professional careers. Loyalty no longer correlated with job security; working smarter not harder was crucial to career advancement and authority figures were treated as equals (thanks to Boomer parents).

While this approach may unsettle seasoned professionals, perspective is all that’s necessary to understand the work models of most Gen Y’s. One of the many brokerages working to build a loyal workforce of dedicated young insurance professionals is Milne Alexander. The brokerage aims to find a balance between learning and experience through a partnership with Work Ventures, a not-for-profit organisation that gives school leavers the opportunity to gain experience within an office environment whilst completing a certified qualification.

This program has seen three trainees, Laura Phongsavath, James Wallace and Emily Lennon join the brokerage; With Phongsavath going on to become an Account Broker, Wallace working in claims as a Claims Administrator, and Lennon completing her Business Traineeship certification.

Kathy Lyon, Chief Operating Officer at Milne Alexander Insurance Brokers says, “You need to provide open communication and employ transparent management practices. This generation was brought up to ask why, and if you don’t have the answers you need to be honest.

“They’re always willing to collaborate to find a solution and thrive when allowed to take ownership of situations.”

Lyon shares a close relationship with her young staff at Milne Alexander who exemplify the varied needs of their generation.

“Whilst they’re individual, I’ve found they all responded well to hands on mentoring and knowing there was a set progression plan for them. They’re highly motivated and like to see how the work they’re doing adds value to the company as a whole.”

Lyon has employed three trainees, who feel their passion for the industry is a direct result of their time at Milne Alexander and their approach to trainees.

Emily Lennon, Accounts & Compliance Assistant at Milne Alexander says, “It was very daunting at first because I’d never been involved with the insurance industry before or been in an office job either. It was a massive step but both Milne Alexander and Work Ventures were incredibly supportive and understanding.”

Young professional James Wallace believes Milne Alexander’s culture of support and open management is crucial to his commitment to the company.

“It’s a great inclusive environment to work in,” says Wallace, “if you have a question you can ask anyone for help even if it’s a senior manager. I don’t think I’d perform as well if that openness didn’t exist. I look forward to coming to work every day because not only do I get to work in my chosen industry, I’m learning and developing new skills to add to my portfolio.”

Building loyalty through learning

Development is at the top of every young professional’s agenda. By investing in staff qualifications and training courses, managers are ensuring the continued employment and growth of the individuals they manage.

Lyon says: “With young workers you have provide them with the tools to enhance their strengths and develop their weaknesses. It’s your duty to take the time to help them build a strong foundation and guide them to becoming the type of contributor you want in your company.”

In a recent survey, Hays Recruitment found most Gen Y respondents looked for ongoing learning and development opportunities when selecting an employer. The provision of mentoring, a clear progression plan and strong leadership also ranked highly in keeping those surveyed loyal to their company.

This was the case when Milne Alexander hired Wallace as a trainee. Wallace was simply looking for a stable job to see him through university and provide him with necessary office experience. However mentoring by Lyon has provided him with a strong career plan and assured his continuation with the company.

“I can’t see myself working anywhere else. There’s no limit to what you can achieve when you’ve got great management who really believe in you and what you bring to the industry,” he says, “they’re flexible and willing to create roles that allow you to do what you’re good at whilst remaining challenging. Kathy’s always there to talk to and train me and I know just what I need to do to get to where I want to be.

Trainees at Milne Alexander are encouraged early on to take ownership of issues within their workplace. This approach immediately personalises their view of the company and validates their contributions to the workplace, resulting in a stronger bond towards the organisation.

Getting the right start

Over-educated and under-experienced is the common verdict on Generation Y. However a study by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research shows the number of traineeships and apprenticeships has increased consistently since 2002, with an 11.3% rise in 2012 compared with 2011.  The message is clear: many young professionals are striving to achieve a balance between education and experience.

Lyon says investing in school leaver trainees has provided her with workers eager to take on all the industry has to offer.

“They’re intelligent, ambitious, they don’t take their jobs for granted and they’re prepared to take ownership of the responsibilities you give them. But you need to meet them halfway and show that you’re willing to support and invest in their development.” She says.

With Milne Alexanders help Phongsavath was fast-tracked through her two-year traineeship within eighteen months. An accomplishment reflective of her dedication and management support.

“Since starting at Milne Alexander three years ago I’ve been the receptionist, supported account brokers and now I’m an account broker myself.  I’ve also used that time to complete my Certificate III and Certificate IV in Financial Services, and completed my Tier 2 and Tier 1 qualifications with NIBA College.” says Laura Phongsavath, Account Broker and first trainee accepted by the organisation through Work Ventures.

Working for Milne Alexander has provided her with a firm foundation in insurance and has set the trajectory of her career.

“Traineeships are really fulfilling,” she says, “you get a qualification and you get immersed in the field you want to work in, you start achieving your goals immediately and in a workplace like Milne Alexander you see the work you’re doing making a real difference.” She says.

For Wallace the benefits of taking on a trainee are crystal clear, “Hiring someone with experience doesn’t help the industry as a whole. The industry is ageing and trainees offer the best opportunity to pass on the learnings and practices of the generation before.”