Guest Op-Ed: Purpose Driven Employment Part II – Retaining the Transit Workforce of Tomorrow

September 24, 2018

This is part II of an article about Recruiting and Retaining the Transit Workforce of Tomorrow. You can find part I here.

We are in a new world where, for the first time in a long time, there are more jobs available than applicants looking for work. Across industries, top talent is hard to find and even harder to keep. Times are so tight that you shouldn’t be surprised if your good managers are receiving calls from job recruiters telling them that staying with you is keeping their wages depressed and they need to test the market. There are venture financed companies willing to pay top dollar for top talent, and you may only be nurturing them to spread their wings and fly.

After recruiting these new Millennial and Gen Z professionals, how do you retain them? How do you make sure the money and hours spent training them pays dividends in the future?

Getting the Most Out of Your Workforce Investment

By next year, Millennials and Gen Z will make up more than 60% of the total population.And these two generations are generally considered to want more out of their employer than providing them with a job. They want to feel purpose. They want to make a positive impact on people’s lives. They want to do good for society. They aren’t merely looking for a paycheck.

Remember, there are three core elements to define purposeful employment – Your Impact on Others, Personal Development, and Delivery through Relationships. You first need to identify these power positions to intrigue potential recruits, and then you have to put them into practice to retain them.

How Does This Look In Practice?

For Millennials, use your corporate intranet site and other internal communications (newsletters, etc.) to deliver purposeful stories and statistics about how your transit agency is making a difference in the community. For example, highlight how many new jobs will be available within a 30-minute ride after the re-routing of your bus service or share recent studies on how quicker access to jobs with public transit reduces poverty. Encourage employees to share their own experiences of work purpose at staff meetings or in a quick video you can post on your internal website. Bottom-line, celebrate the positive impact your employees and system are having in your city.

You can further give purpose to your Millennial employees by getting them out of the office to witness their impact on your city first-hand. Invite them to attend public hearings, ride the bus to work, or serve as transit ambassadors for a new route.

Also, hold an annual all staff meeting to review and celebrate the transit system’s impact and delivery of its purpose. We did this in Baltimore with presentations from all key directors, with photos, videos, and graphics demonstrating our achievements, KPIs, and stories of success. With nearly 300 staff and managers in attendance, it had a big impact and ripple effect throughout our agency. People saw and felt that their work made a real difference in our city and the lives of our passengers

As for your Gen Z employees, get them involved in cutting-edge projects such as connected vehicles, new CAD/AVL or other IT technology, developing MaaS apps, or exploring the possibilities of bringing in autonomous buses into the service.

Finally, if possible, allow quality employees to try out other jobs in the agency if they aren’t fulfilled in their current position. Transit systems have many career opportunity areas, and letting your trusted employees explore other job fields within your agency is better than them leaving to try them elsewhere. While I was at MTA, we did this and kept several high potential employees who weren’t happy in their current jobs. I allowed one Millennial to transfer from the Office of Performance Management to the Planning Office team involved in rolling out new service changes. She loved it and stayed with our agency.

The Workforce of Tomorrow

Those leading the public transit and mobility industry have to be aware that the workforce is constantly evolving. Also, remember that there are three generations of employees to focus on when retaining the future workforce – Generation X (Gen X), Millennials, and Generation Z.  Gen X is becoming the top managers and leaders or those with the most experience in your agency, and traditional retention strategies likely already apply. But, you need to start adopting new strategies when retaining Millennials and Gen Z, and the above examples are only a few ideas for retention strategies.

For our transit systems to continue to attract and retain the best and brightest of tomorrow’s workforce, we must, in the words of Steven Covey, “seek first to understand, then be understood.” Do this by practicing purpose driven hiring and retention for Millennials and keep your workplace messaging relevant to today’s younger Gen Z.

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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