By Dean Whittaker

This month, I had the privilege to host a webinar presented by Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting. The thought-provoking discussion focused on the “next generation” of workers – why they matter, what they want, and how to design an authentic strategy to attract and retain their talent. 

In her remarks, Rebecca said that the next generation matters because we will need their talent to fill the large talent gap being created by the retirement of the baby-boomers and the shrinking population resulting from a decline in fertility rates in developed countries.  She pointed out that the “fresh eyes” of the next generation will provide a new perspective on our intractable challenges, and that by engaging them, we will realize that it is not only the current generation’s responsibility to solve the issues we face.  She reminded us that we need to go beyond GIT “guy-in-ties” and the PMS “pale, male, and stale” leadership, and give the next generation a voice in the discussion.

Based upon 40,000 interviews with young professionals (20-40 years old) conducted by Rebecca’s firm, the next generation feels that where they live is just as important (or more important) than what they do. In her book, Live First, Work Second, Rebecca describes these survey results in more detail.  She writes that the next generation will organize their life differently than the current generation has done.  She points out that efforts to attract this next generation will require a community to be on-line, findable, and positively positioned.  The next generation is looking for communities that have “inclusive attitudes,” meaning they embrace differences in culture, life style, ethnicity, and others factors.  The next generation is more skeptical about the institutions they are inheriting and the institutions’ ability to perform.

Rebecca also suggested several strategies to attract the next generation. To start, communities need to re-energize their language to reflect the importance of “quality-of-life” rather than an exclusive focus on creating and attracting jobs. While jobs are important, they are not the sole focus of the next generation despite a 39% unemployment rate for those in their 20s.  Looking at the world through the lenses of the average 20-40 year old person is the key. We need to realize that cities are for people, not buildings. The design of our cities should reflect the needs of its people. 

Further, the relationship between people and their cities was stressed in Rebecca’s comments.  She said that we fall into one of three groups: lifers (never left the zip code), boomerangers (left and came back), or transplants (moved there from somewhere else).  She recommended that the latter two groups should be recruited as ambassadors for the city because they frequently have the most positive outlook since they have chosen to be there.  She also believes that people leave cities when the city is boring, and that we often move for money or love.

As mentioned earlier, quality-of-life, while hard to measure, is a major factor in attracting and keeping talent.  Rebecca’s firm has developed a process and metrics for doing so.   They measure seven factors: Vitality, Earnings, Learning, Social Capital, Cost of Lifestyle, After Hours, and Around Town.  Vitality looks at the physical health of the community and opportunities to exercise. Earnings measures the availability and diversity of job opportunities as well as the entrepreneurial environment. Learning looks at teacher/student ratio, library usage, and continuing education opportunities.  Social Capital focuses on the engagement of all people regardless of subgroup.  Cost of Life Style  evaluates affordability.  After Hours  concerns after work activities.  Around Town  explores getting around in the city (without a car) and getting out of town (direct flights). These seven factors provide an insight into a community’s quality-of-life.

Lastly, Rebecca discussed four levers to pull to become a talent magnet.  We can use public policy by giving young people a voice.  We can use social networks to provide a vehicle to connect people with the city and each other. We can shift cultural attitudes to reflect one of inclusion, and we can change behavior through such things as a “buy local” program like a farmers’ market.

These many strategies recommended by Rebecca offer wonderful action items that communities can take to ensure the attraction and retention of talent in their area. Rebecca can be contacted through her company’s website at: