Keeping up with millennials: How we’re supporting our talent as they experiment with new career paths and skills

As a digital agency, our workforce demographic is predominately that of Gen Y at over 60%, or “millennials” as we’ve been called. This relates to anyone born between the years of 1977–1994.

According to Gallup, millennials are switching jobs three times more often than other workers, which could spell out a significant loss of talent if you are unable to keep up with their career moves. At Beyond, we have acknowledged this trend, and rather than fight it, we have embraced it.

If you are able to provide the environment to do so, employees should be encouraged to experiment and test out their chosen career paths or investigate skill sets in a safe environment. As organisations, we should be encouraging our top talent to reach out to us if they are interested in changing course, rather than have their first thought to be that they should start looking elsewhere.

Our approach at Beyond is to recognise top talent when we find it, and, rather than set rigid career paths, support inquisitive team members through potential career changes where we can. We do this through our quarterly check-in cadence, which is our version of the review process, coupled with our L&D framework. We even have a dedicated Talent Development Lead to oversee our programme who, topically, transitioned from Resource Manager in creation of the role!

The business case

Why invest so heavily in reskilling and retooling your teams when you could just let them leave and hire in the experts? There is a method in our madness.

  1. We’re a people business, and, by that, we mean our capital is our people. When we find high performers, we want to do everything in our power to keep them engaged, as they will be the reason we keep innovation in the business. On the flipside, they are also the reason our clients stay with us. 95% of our business is client-facing team members. They build relationships that help us grow through partnership. If they left every time our relationship evolved or a new skill was required to deliver the work, we would lose all continuity.
  2. Employee turnover is our biggest expense. The agency environment is a high context culture at the best of times. For us, this is even more so, as we are niche in our approach and our ways of working. This means it can take 6 months from induction for an employee to be client-ready. Combine that with the time to hire and train someone, and that is a huge amount of lost revenue. According to the CIPD, 77% of employees value career development and training above all other benefits, and, if you retool someone, they retain all of that knowledge and have something even more valuable: empathy for their fellow team members in different disciplines.
  3. The skills gap is real. Hays latest research says that the biggest deficit for skills lies in tech, with DevOps at the top of the list, followed by specialists in the latest languages. For us, we find it can sometimes be the older languages that people don’t want to use any more such as Angular.JS, which our clients have used in their tech stacks, that cause us the biggest challenges. Retooling is easier than bringing in a hotshot developer who wants to learn the next new thing, as putting them on old code is the quickest way to guarantee their head will be turned. We also find we need specialist skills or consultants to partner with us to deliver workstreams using methodologies we hadn’t even considered before. If we free up someone to go out there and learn about these, or even to shadow the consultant, this will be an investment that will save expensive professional fees in the future, whilst retaining the knowledge in the business.

Think Differently

By nature our teams are inquisitive. One of our values is “Never stop learning”, and one of our strategic priorities is “Think Differently”, which has two strands: one around our work and the other around inclusion. We have an L&D framework that supports our people to look externally at industry experts to discover new methodologies, and we actively encourage everyone to find events; books; and conferences that inspire them that we will fund. Our only ask is that they distill the learning and bring it back in to the agency to share.

Sometimes this means we end up with new skill sets that team members want to test and learn on live projects in a safe environment before we add it to our toolkit. We call this “incubating new skills sets” and our creative leaders in the organisation are accountable for nurturing these through. We have done this most recently with Jobs To Be Done (JTBD).

What this means for our teams

The L&D framework has been in place for 12 months, and in that time we have seen a number of success stories within the studio

  • Marketing Executive to Copywriter
  • Management Accountant to Client Partner
  • Client Partner to Product Manager
  • Resource Manager to Talent Development Lead

This has been successful through the use of the L&D framework, including

  • Ring fenced funding for external training- and a clear path to gaining the funding
  • Subject matter experts to mentor and support
  • Quarterly check-ins and clear objectives
  • Flexible career pathways and transition plans

From the business side, we run regular analysis on the skills in demand both internally and externally, and push out training around these to try and keep ahead of the curve. This has recently involved things such as Data & analytics, Data science, Product Management & Customer Journey Mapping.

My final word(s)on this would be: don’t let high performing talent leave your business to try a new path without first asking if you can take them on the path instead. The business case is clear, the benefit your organisation will receive from the mindset change will be worth the investment.

And, if you’re a high performer who is looking for an organisation who will celebrate your desire to learn and change people’s perception, look us up; we’ll make sure your passion and innovation is celebrated.

If you want to hear more, or if you’re interested in training or advice for your organisation then please drop her an email on kate.rand@bynd.com

Kate Rand is an HR leader and part of Beyond’s Global Leadership Team.