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How the Social Sector Can Attract More Young Talent

  |  December 7, 2016
In every organization and every sector, hiring managers want to find the best people they can. Ask anyone trying to quickly find the right candidate for an open position and he or she will tell you: finding fantastic people and convincing them to work for you is challenging.
In our experience, it is even tougher in the social sector, where the problems are bigger but the salary budgets are often smaller. Although a lot of attention has been given to the idea that millennials in particular will prioritize a sense of purpose and meaning over raw earning power, the numbers are still pretty tough to ignore: looking at where graduates actually want to go, the biggest sectors for top graduates are still technology and finance.
Making the competition for talent even more concerning for leaders in the social sector is the hotly debated “skills gap.” The World Economic Forum’s “21st Century Skills” report illustrates “a problem in skill supply,” with “more than a third of global companies report[ing] difficulties filling open positions in 2014.”
How can social sector leaders not only pursue the talent they need, but also convince those people to stay with their organizations? If money isn’t everything – but meaning isn’t enough – what else can these organizations offer?
We think the answer might be another factor young people especially consider when choosing where to work: learning and growth. A recent report from Deloitte found that 44% of millennials surveyed wanted to leave their current employer due to lack of leadership development. Additionally, PwC conducted a study of over 4,000 recent graduates from 75 countries, who indicated opportunities for career progression as most important when evaluating employers. Training/Development opportunities came in close behind at third place, with receiving mentoring and coaching from leadership as the most attractive learning opportunity.
This, ultimately, leaves an opening for the social sector. To compete with industries that are appealing to new talent, we believe the social sector can make a more visible investment in managing talent and growing collaborative, less staunchly hierarchical cultures. Examples of the opposite are, unfortunately, plentiful. Think about every time a front-line worker has no influence over decisions their agency makes that impact the people they see every day. Or the junior employee in municipal government that never presents something they worked on to senior leadership.
A renewed emphasis on learning, development and meaningful contribution would make the sector a triple threat: offering purpose, challenge, and learning, an environment most talented people would find compelling.
To create this kind of supportive and collaborative learning culture — on a budget — we suggest focusing on the thing that makes work in the social sector so challenging and simultaneously rewarding: the complexity of the work and its deep connection to society. Managers in the sector can use that as the bedrock for development and learning. How?
Ask questions. Lots of them. Using whatever technical infrastructure you have at hand — email, instant messaging, an enterprise social network — begin to practice the art of asking questions. Use these broadcast tools within your organization to share some of your most pressing issues and problems — and see who raises their hands to solve them or learn more — then empower them to be successful; for those that raise their hands – enable participation based on interest, while coaching for skill, versus screening for skill from the outset.
At Community Solutions we maintain an active portfolio of “Rooster Calls” — cross-functional projects formed and staffed by anyone interested in surfacing and subsequently solving a core organizational issue. We believe that engagement at work comes from being able to work on engaging things; and who are we to know what a colleague may find engaging? By creating a space to allow people to associate with the work that they are interested in, by supporting them to succeed, and by having processes in place to learn from failure (because some things will fail), we’re creating a powerful feedback loop of inquiry, action, and reflection.