What Millennials Really Want: Professional Development

I'm not sure about you, but professional development (PD) at my last job consisted of little more than a few forgettable webinars and a yearly training that supported my work, but not my career. While my work was challenging and fulfilling, there were few opportunities for professional growth.

In December 2016, our Board of Directors at Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Los Angeles (YNPN LA) conducted a PD needs assessment of our constituents. More than 50 individuals completed a survey asking respondents to rate whether a PD training on 29 different topics would be Not Very Helpful (1), Somewhat Helpful (2), or Very Helpful (3). The seven highest scoring topics and their scores [in brackets] were:

7. Leveraging Your Communication, Learning, and Working Styles [2.39]

Millennials have grown up being told they can do or be anything they set their mind to. While that may be inspiring and motivating, it can also lead to blind spots when it comes to understanding our strengths and weaknesses. Authentic feedback from managers and well-designed tools can help millennials gain the self-awareness critical to success and help combat imposter syndrome.

6. "Managing Up" (How to Manage Your Boss) [2.4]

It has been said, "people don't leave jobs, they leave managers," and many of us have quit managers in the past. But the truth is, most millennials know that it's easier to fix something than replace it and they've joined their nonprofits to make a difference, not complain about their managers. That's why managing up is not only a critical skill for millennials, but it's one that employers can embrace to reduce turnover and foster better employee relationships.

5. Writing for Nonprofits [2.4]

Whether writing is your life or simply a tool to move projects from point A to point B, being able to communicate effectively and efficiently is an essential nonprofit skill. This is especially true for social media managers, grant writers, researchers, policy folks, and others. For these professionals, whose words are literary representations of themselves and their organizations, the subtleties of focus, organization, voice, style, and credibility can make or break a tweet, report, or email.

4. Personal Financial Management [2.46]

A recent study showed huge deficits in financial literacy for American college students. Forty-four percent had "little or no knowledge on creating or maintaining a budget," and sixty-five percent gave themselves a grade of C or lower on their money management skills. Knowing these statistics, organizations could help their youngest employees manage their finances--and stress levels--by providing financial literacy training for their young professionals.

3. How to Be a Great Manager [2.52]

This is the corollary to #6 above. Just as millennials want to be able to work effectively with their supervisors, they want to be effective managers when they finally get that promotion. The problem is that not only are good managers hard to come by, but it also takes more than just observing a good manager to know how to be one. Training for new managers is essential to helping teams run smoothly, reducing turnover, and creating empowered role models for the next generation of managers.

2. Professional Mentorship [2.71]

In its 2017 Millennial Survey, Deloitte found 63% of "Millennials say their 'leadership skills are not being fully developed.'" The survey also revealed that the overwhelming majority of those with mentors find these relationships beneficial and are more than twice as likely to intend to stay with their organization for more than five years. In sum, mentorship is closely linked to PD and job stability -- two things millennials crave. Employers should consider implementing mentoring systems, including nontraditional formats such as co-mentoring, reverse mentoring, micro mentoring, and group mentoring.

1. Salary & Benefits Negotiation [2.72]

Forbes recently reported, "Average millennial salaries are disproportionately low compared to the national average--and are 20 percent lower than baby boomers' salaries when they were the same age." Millennials also face a combination of barriers to advancement: subpar economic conditions, holding more than a trillion dollars in student debt, weak wage growth, and ever-rising costs of living. At the same time, Payscale.com reports that feeling "uncomfortable negotiating salary," not wanting "to be perceived as pushy," and being "worried of losing my job," all factor into millennials' attitudes toward pay negotiations. Indeed, in a recent study, only 38% of millennials negotiated with their employers after receiving an offer, while 75% of hiring managers "typically had room to increase their first salary offers by 5% to 10%." So it's no surprise that millennials rated a salary negotiation workshop the highest.

The Bottom Line

Of the top seven topics, more than half can be categorized as supporting career advancement. Millennials want to get to the next level, and see leadership development and building on their unique strengths as the tools to get them there. Empower them to succeed by offering mentorship opportunities, strengths-based supervision, and coaching and training that supports self-awareness. Doing so can create a confident, competent, and well-connected team while also fostering a work culture where employees feel valued and supported.

Finally, millennials want to be effective at work and at home in order to make a difference. Help them achieve their personal and professional goals by offering workshops teaching hard skills that are broadly applicable (e.g., good writing, financial literacy, technology) and related to supervision (both managing down and "managing up"). Doing so will create a better informed millennial workforce with greater long-term stability, motivation, and dedication to your nonprofit's mission and organization.

Brian Rosenbaum is a California native with more than a decade of nonprofit experience. He earned his BA in Psychology and Spanish at UCLA and his MSW at Columbia University, with an emphasis on program development and community organizing. Brian serves as Engagement Manager for United Way of Greater Los Angeles, where he oversees volunteer and corporate engagement. He currently serves as Board President for Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Los Angeles, leading an all-volunteer board that works to support, connect, and empower emerging mission-driven professionals in LA. In his spare time, Brian can be found running, cooking, or gardening.

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