The laws of attraction

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Speaker outlines ways communites recruit, retain young talent

Rebecca Ryan held a half-day workshop and luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John's on Tuesday on how to attract and retain young workers - a crucial issue for Newfoundland and Labrador, which is forecast to have 77,000 job vacancies opening up in the next several years. - Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

Is Newfoundland and Labrador an attractive place to live? The economic importance of answering yes to that question lies in the years ahead as the province looks to fill more than 77,000 job vacancies generated through retirements and major industry projects coming on stream.

The recruitment and retention of workers, especially young ones, was the focus of a half-day workshop at the Sheraton Hotel led by author and speaker Rebecca Ryan, an expert in next-generation challenges in the workplace. The workshop and luncheon were a joint venture of the St. John's Board of Trade and Junior Achievement of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mixing humour and anecdotes - including one about a failed baton relay by the U.S. track team during the Beijing Olympics - Ryan explained the ways in which the next generation of workers differ from the waves of employees that preceded them.

"If you want to backfill those 70,000 jobs that are going to be available over the course of the next few years, you are going to need to know how the next generation thinks, and what they value, and how to make a message that is going to resonate with them," she said.

Drawing on her consultancy firm's interviews with more than 50,000 young workers, Ryan said among the main differences is that the next generation of workers are putting off traditional adulthood milestones - marriage, parenthood, house ownership - and have decided where they live is nearly as important as where they work or what they do.

"It's not just because they're being petulant, or because they can. In large part it's because they've seen what's happened to the employer-employee contract, and they know that jobs may be temporary. We're going to more contract work than we've ever had before, so the first loyalty is not to the job. It's not to the employer. A generation ago, it had been work first; everything else comes later. But for our next generation of citizens, they're trying to figure out how to build a big life, and work is a part of it."

Quality of life is something that can be quantified and revolves around seven main factors, said Ryan: cost of lifestyle, career opportunities, the health and vitality of a community, learning opportunities, ease of movement around - and out of - town, social capital, and after-hours entertainment options. Towns and cities that score well on those factors attract young workers, in turn boosting performance and growth in those communities.

After her talk, Ryan said St. John's measures up well in some categories, but not so well in others.

"Very competitive in after-hours - I think very competitive in the learning index - and this is unscientific. We haven't looked at your data. I would say that the cost of lifestyle is on a trend that needs to be closely watched, because it could be getting out of sight for young college graduates," she said. "I'm also concerned, I put a little orange flag by your around-town index, because I think as you guys continue to grow, that is going to be more and more of a challenge. With respect to the vitality index, I'm really not sure. I haven't had a real chance to look at your park and trail map. I know that you have a lot of hiking trails available; I want to see the interconnectivity of it. And I know that transit, in terms of around-town, it's a real car culture. I heard the bus referred to as the 'loser cruiser,' so I know that's probably a bit of a challenge as well."

St. John's Board of Trade chairman said Ryan's work was inspiring.

"What I really took away from it was she took a totally balance scorecard of our communities, of what attracts people to them, things like the cost of living, things like what you do after hours when you're not working," he said. "She looked at the total offering that a community has to bring people into it and retain people. So when we look at Newfoundland and Labrador, her comment was that we're in a great position right now, but that just like the U.S. Olympians, the 4X100 relay team, they had the best team on paper but they dropped the baton in the qualifying race. And what we need to do is find a way of engaging the next generation and working with them on their terms because we can't expect the world to change to adapt to our way.

"So if we want to be able to attract and retain people to enter the workforce as we have retirements, we need to be able to provide a city and a province that's going to be attractive to them."

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: St. John's Board, Sheraton Hotel, Ryan's U.S. Olympians

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, U.S., St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Dee
    November 21, 2011 - 09:44

    "High rent, no job security, high priced fruit and vegetables... who wouldn't want to live here? " Not to mention, no health benefits, no opportunity for job advancement, and inadequate city transportation. Who wouldn't want to come home from Alberta?

  • Ben
    November 18, 2011 - 12:05

    Until employers realize to attract Top Talent you need to pay higher wages, add incentives such as performance based bonus, employer matched pension plans and medical insurance that the rest of Canada enjoys, not this stripped down insurance that they are currently providing.

  • mom
    November 16, 2011 - 20:53

    High rent, no job security, high priced fruit and vegetables... who wouldn't want to live here?

  • David
    November 16, 2011 - 13:44

    St. John's is not a synonym for Newfoundland and Labrador .... but hey, understandable mistake, and it will actually be correct soon enough anyway....as you were.