Guest Op-Ed: Purpose Driven Employment Part I: Attracting the Transit Workforce of Tomorrow

September 18, 2018

The transit world has a compelling message to attract purpose-driven employees. We are assisting in the mobility of society. We are helping the environment, partnering to build sustainable and smart cities, and innovating faster than almost any other industry. We have an exciting agenda that lifts those who need help such as people with disabilities or that have lower income, while at the same time producing rock-solid economic development benefits such as getting commuters to work, customers to shop, and reducing congestion by taking cars off the road.

Today’s workforce requires more than the traditional pay and benefits discussion with applicants. Employees also want more than just meaningful work in a conducive environment and a career plan that includes development and opportunities for advancement. This used to be enough to attract great talent. But newer generations (born after 1980) want to know that the business they work for is doing good for society. They want to know your agency’s purpose and how it ties into their desire for meaning in life and work. Many want their vocation to be intertwined with their avocation.

Which begs the question: What are you doing to recruit new employees and give them purposeful employment?

The Changing of the Guard

“Today’s Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits,” said Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Global in a LinkedIn Study titled Purpose – A Practical Guide. LinkedIn and Imperative’s 2016 Global Report on Purpose at Work is the largest study so far on the role of purpose in the workforce. Surveying 26,000 LinkedIn members, it found that purpose-driven professionals consistently outperform their peers who work primarily for money or achievement. Also, in a recent LinkedIn survey, nearly half of these employees said they would consider taking a job with lower pay if it meant they could work for a company that makes a positive impact on people’s lives and society. In other words, they are putting their money where their heart is.

There is also a new generation just entering the workforce, Generation Z (Gen Z). These young people were born after ~1997, and they are a big generation. The latest statistics show that this cohort will make up 32% of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019. So, there will be more of this group than Millennials, who will account for a 31.5 percent share.

Gen Z has never known a non-digital world (What’s a landline?), and they have grown up amid events such as the “war on terror” and after the global recession. They have always streamed music, don’t remember VCRs, Snapchat is their social media of choice (along with, maybe, Instagram, but definitely not Facebook), and have always had information at their fingertips.

The Pew Research Center Technology noted a major difference between the four current generations is the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact. They state, “Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964) grew up as television expanded dramatically, changing their lifestyles and connection to the world in fundamental ways. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and Millennials came of age during the internet explosion.”

Millennials were raised and adapted with quickening technological advancements and the growing interconnectivity of media and the world. Gen Z has had all of this as the backdrop for their lives. This is a reason why Gen Z always appear to be “on” their phones – consuming media, text messaging, and using social media to connect with their friends and cohorts.

Learning and communication styles have changed since Generation X started entering the workforce. Therefore, recruitment and training materials designed by and for those over age 35 will be most likely not be as relevant or helpful for those under age 35 who are more purpose and digitally focused.

So to attract the Millennials and those who want purpose beyond profit for their work, you are going to have to tell your story to give them that purpose.

What’s Your Story?

Veronique Hakim, Managing Director of the New York MTA, expertly expressed that their “job is to help moms get to work; assist dads on their journey home; make sure kids get to school on time; and keep the region, its culture and its economy moving.

But what is your story? How can you differentiate your agency and define the purpose of potential employees? The LinkedIn Purpose Study outlined three core elements:

  1. Your Impact on Others

Illustrate how your transit system makes the world a better place. Mobility, sustainable practices, helping people with disabilities, smart cities, economic development, even societally positive practices such as recruiting ex-offenders for mechanic jobs are only a few of the potential options.

  1. Personal Development

Show the opportunities you provide for personal growth. This could be enabling them to explore new, cutting-edge technologies like autonomous vehicles and Mobility as a Service (MaaS).

  1. Delivery through Relationships

Explain how you encourage authentic relationships at work. You could set up a buddy system for new employees, create opportunities to work as part of a team delivering an important service, encourage helping out at public hearings and other after hour events, or take employees to lunch as a group.

Building Out Your Team Demands Purpose

The three elements above will appeal to your core audience of Millennials as you seek them to be part of your service development, customer service, administrative, IT, and operations teams.

To reach Gen Z, your recruitment messages need to get to them via social media. Advertise careers on Snapchat or Pandora/Spotify. Use Instagram photos to attract attention to jobs in transit that highlight the technological aspects of your agency. Update your job training to include online material and testing. Focus on your agency’s role in the connected, Smart City of tomorrow.

Finally, to recruit team members who will fit into your agency’s culture, bring in top management who you know or trust to be competent, dedicated, and loyal team members. Build your own team. Then, invite your team to encourage their capable friends or top-notch former work associates to apply so they can build their teams.

Remember, your happiest new employee is also your best recruiter.

Click here for part 2 on retaining the workforce of tomorrow.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.

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