Generation Hex

Millennials are just the ticket for the post-austerity arts industry. So why aren’t they beating down theatre doors?

GenY does not love your arts website.

Arts HRs, you are barking up the wrong tree.

Everyone complains about how hard it is to find and keep talent. But we’ve been living in the New Arts Economy for at least half a decade and hiring practices still haven’t changed. The same arid funding landscape that compels creative troupes to take more control over their own destinies, also puts long-term survival in the hands of a new kind of arts worker — one who combines a passion for the industry with a commercial mindset, and practical skills in technology, data management, communications, and customer service.

The good news — those workers exist. They even have a label to make them easy to find: the much-maligned GenY or millennial.

The bad news — they couldn't give a toss about working in the arts.

That’s odd. Your average GenY is a bit of a culture vulture, who combines tech savvy with professional motivations that extend beyond just making money. Survey after survey confirms it. Millennials want the world of work to mean something.

For the arts, where history, culture, creativity and community are literally ‘what you do’, applications from quality GenY candidates should be hurtling towards you like iron filings to a supermagnet. But they aren't. And that’s a problem.

Why aren’t they queuing round the block?

It’s partly down to perception. The arts are still lagging behind when it comes to adopting technology — less than ideal when you’re trying to get the attention of the first generation never to have known a world without the internet. Gaming, mobile, and social media are as natural to them as VCRs and Netscape were to GenX’ers at the same stage of life. They ‘get’ data and know instinctively how people communicate and shop online. But when they look at the arts as a career, they struggle to find a fit for their aptitudes.

Generational friction plays a part. In the arts and elsewhere, many of us ‘elders’ are still a bit ticked off with this new cohort of uppity juniors. They seem to arrive with outsize expectations of what a job should offer, and they aren’t content to put in years and years of effort in order to see rewards. But the world has moved on. After nearly a decade of muttering in the broader business world, HR professionals have worked out how valuable millennials are, and taken steps to accommodate them. The arts should be leading the way on this.

Get over it — you need them.

Austerity has forced the creative industries to raise their collective game and get better at marketing, e-commerce, and what I’ll call ‘data-driven decision making’. These things don’t always sync neatly with an arts education or background, so the industry-wide effort to upskill commercially should have gained pace by now.

In fact quite the opposite is happening. A recent Nesta report on adoption of digital-led activities in the arts shows we are actually losing ground, with just 43 per cent of us now saying we use data to develop online strategies. That’s down from 47 per cent in 2013. The biggest barrier noted in the report is a skills gap in data analysis, and lack of staff time (my emphasis).

That’s why a steady influx of millennials has to be a core hiring objective. Here are a few techniques for making your recruitment practices GenY-friendly, finding the right employee fit, and achieving a good generational mix.

Recruiting GenY

First and foremost, define your culture and the things you stand for as an organisation. Have a clear mission statement, underpinned by a written set of values — the first of which should be ‘we put our people first’. That’s a message which resonates with everyone.

Spend time where prospective GenY employees live — on social media. Speak to them in the right way and keep it real. Don’t promote job listings, use social to promote your culture.

Remember that while you are looking for the right person to suit a role, the candidate is looking for the right job. Take the time to invite and answer any questions a potential new hire might have. This process is about finding philosophical alignment between you as an organisation, and them as a prospective employee.

Show them, don’t tell them. Present your company as an organisation comprised of real humans, but make it more than simply being friendly and presenting a human face. You might, for example, allow candidates to sit in reception for a while to see how you operate; what you ‘feel’ like. A series of interviews with people from different parts of the company is another good idea.

Make it a conversation, not an interrogation. Arts organisations need to establish a two-way discussion with millennial candidates in order to understand their ability to grasp and debate concepts. Here you should try to assess their potential as much as their experience. The arts organisations I spoke to for this piece try to find out their passions, find out what motivates them, what makes a good environment for them, and of course what their strengths are

Finally, keep the rest of your team in the back of your mind. Will the person fit the dynamic of your current team, or will they cause friction, drop sour notes into the mood music of the group? It’s a highly subjective measure, but if you consider everyone’s feedback on the candidate post-interview, you will likely get it right. Happy people, comfortable in their work/social environment, will always be more productive.

Arts organisations have to rethink how they go about recruitment if they’re going to capture the interest of tech- and data-savvy workers. Too many creative organisations are struggling to develop digital capabilities in a time when they absolutely need them to survive. Training and investment are part of the solution, but so is bringing more digitally native people onto the payroll.


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