Personnel e.bulletin – March 2013

Attracting & Retaining a Gen Y Workforce

Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

Why are we making such a big deal about this workforce and why can’t they be like we (baby boomers) were?

Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, numbers around 80 million and encompasses those born between 1979 and 1999. They are the escalating class that will make up 36% of the workforce by 2014 and 46% by 2020.  Even the youngest members of the generation are making statements about their roles and desires in the workforce.   According to a 2011 Gallup Survey, nearly half of the pre-college students polled said they planned to start their own business, while 42% of them said they will invent something that changes the world.

Knowing the disadvantages of soaring costs and burdensome debt associated with traditional undergraduate and graduate programs, the millennials are turning to alternatives that the Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Industry can leverage.  Career technical education (CTE) and vocational schools, commonly known as trade schools, are experiencing sharp increases in enrollments; many are maintaining waitlists.

Middle-skill jobs (jobs that generally require some significant education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree) will make up approximately 45% of all job openings projected through 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the occupations requiring postsecondary education, those requiring an associate degree or a certificate (i.e. construction and manufacturing) are projected to grow the fastest, at about 19%. The millennials are turning, and will continue to, these growth occupations; there is no better time to establish your presence in the employment marketplace.

The millennials are the children of the baby boomers.  They just cannot be like “us” because their life experiences are very different.  They have grown up:

  • Digitally – taking technology for granted.
  • With social media as their daytime and bedtime companions.
  • Typically as children of divorce.
  • More sheltered than any other generation, as parents strived to protect them from the evils of the world they witnessed.
  • With 9/11, school shootings, terrorist warnings/scares, etc.
  • Busy – the first generation with so much scheduled.
  • Thinking all things “are possible.”
  • During periods of both economic expansion and decline.

As a result, they have developed workforce characteristics and beliefs such as:

  • Because of technology, they can work flexibly anytime, anyplace.
  • They should be evaluated on work product – not how, when, or where they got it done.
  • Expect to influence the terms and conditions of their jobs.
  • Have a work ethic that no longer mandates 10 hour days.
  • High expectations of bosses and managers to assist and mentor them in attainment of their professional goals.
  • Want long-term relationships with employers, but on their own terms.
  • “Real Revolution” – decrease in career ambition in favor of more family time, less travel, less personal pressure.
  • Goal oriented.
  • Looking for meaningful work and innovation.
  • May be the first generation that readily accepts older leadership – understand the importance of great mentors.
  • Obsessed with career development and training.
  • Recognize that people make the company successful.
  • Tolerant.
  • Thrive in a collaborative work environment.

The “Why of Y” is compelling. This workforce demands your attention, particularly in light of sobering statistics surrounding the widening gap between construction labor demand and supply. Between 2010 and 2025, up to 95 million Baby Boomers will leave the U.S. workforce or change work focus, but only 40 million workers will be available to replace them. The plumbing, heating, cooling industry is struggling to find younger workers who have the skills and motivation to fill these positions.

There is little about what the Y Generation has experienced growing up or what they desire in their work that should deter attracting and retaining this talent. You are in a great position, given the nature of your work, to seize the moment.  Create a sense of urgency by turning your attention from the “Why?” in Gen Y to the “How!”

The How in Y
Hiring and retaining millennials successfully starts with an understanding of the premise that their generation does not “live to work.” They would rather not work, than work in a job that they dislike – even worse, one that does not deliver on their recruiting promises.  Here are some important tips for attracting, engaging, and retaining your Y generation:

  • Create a brand/image of doing fun and interesting work – this one is a really big deal.
  • Update your social media presence, particularly for attracting and recruiting millennials – it is the only way they know how to search for careers and jobs.
  • Build relationships with local career technical education and vocational programs.
  • Highlight the role that technology plays in the plumbing, heating, cooling industry and the technology trends.
  • Play up the “family” nature of the business – they want their co-workers to be like a second family.
  • Put work in context – millennials want to understand the importance of their work in the organization and they want to understand the organization’s role in the world.
  • Promote and model work-life balance – they want to enjoy their life now, not wealth. They look at the aging, strung out Baby Boomers and declare that they do not want what they see.
  • Change things up – millennials yearn for change, so find ways to give then variety and new challenges.  Get them involved in a think tank around a problem so they can feel as if there is change and challenge all the time.
  • Be a good, cool, and fun boss – they consider a good boss as a cool one. Cool bosses have fun and let employees have fun; inspiring invention and creativity. Younger managers will often have an easier time creating a social environment with millennials, but retaining the ability to coach and mentor is essential – all bosses need to be careful not to get too close.
  • Create forums for their ideas and opinions to be “heard” – base rewards and recognition on good ideas and process improvements.
  • Create team environments where staff can share ideas and learn from each other – give the old “brown bag” lunch a try.
  • Optimize the training that is available to you through PHCC – they will take advantage of all that is offered to them.
  • Become a corporate citizen – millennials are very giving minded and will be attracted to employers who contribute to the greater good.

Make it a priority to focus on the Gen Y Workforce.  They are a big deal; both as a source of talent as well as a rapidly growing part of your customer base.


This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of March 2013. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at

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