Employers need a change in mindset to maximise the potential of the new generation
Given the often large generational gap between hiring manager and graduate trainee, it is unsurprising that millennials are often misunderstood or misrepresented.
However, we must be careful not to underplay the importance of understanding and embracing millennial talent and mindset if we are to ensure the long-term future of the company secretarial profession.
A recent survey suggested that 89% of university graduates prioritise four key criteria as they transition from an academic setting into the professional workplace. Top of that list is the opportunity for further training and development, whether that is via a vocational qualification or on-the-job training.
Leading on from this, perhaps unsurprisingly, they want to be rewarded for their hard work and recognised for achievements, with the opportunity to step up to achieve career ambitions.
With the increasing profile of corporate governance, the company secretarial profession is swiftly becoming a career of choice for those with a law degree or relevant business administration experience.
This is good news for the industry. However, evidence suggests that many employers take a dated view to hiring graduates, where trainees are seen as a burden on time and management, at a time when they should better understand how to attract, develop and retain top millennial talent.
Managers who cultivate raw talent will increase productivity, reduce workload pressure on the team and raise a sense of collective responsibility to help individuals acquire the skills needed for a long and meaningful career.
But how do company secretarial departments balance the needs of their team with the expectation of an ambitious graduate that seems to want to run before they can walk? To answer this, you need to understand what is driving behaviour.
“It is fair to say that millennials are less patient than graduates of yesteryear”
Debt is a key factor here.
With the average student in the UK graduating with over £30,000 of debt, the notion of ‘promotion equals pay rise’ will encourage trainees to want to develop their technical company secretarial skills as quickly as possible, even if this means pushing for increasing levels of responsibility or changing jobs more regularly.
It is fair to say that millennials are less patient than graduates of yesteryear, partly attributed to this debt but also expectations of immediacy, having grown up in the digital age and having no other reference point to calibrate what is perceived as a ‘normal rate of progress’ in a typical corporate environment.
Employers too want a return on their investment and are having to be more accepting of what millennials want in order to retain top talent. Strong leadership is key here.
Those with a clear strategy to develop the careers of everyone in the department will reap the rewards through greater productivity and loyalty. Secretariat teams also need to accept that trainees are likely to move jobs within two to three years, unless an internal opportunity opens up.
It is how they utilise these bright, pliable minds during this time that will set their team apart from others. Developing talent should be at the heart of every company secretarial team.
Ambition and enthusiasm, however great, should not be stifled. Emulating or even bettering the success of the trainee they are replacing will be a big attraction to those graduates holding multiple job offers.
There are some amusing parodies on YouTube that exaggerate stereotypical attitudes and behaviours of millennials.
In one video, a millennial attending a job interview is told that work starts at 8:30am to which she replies: ‘I can only start work at 10:30 after my Pilates class, a skinny Frappuccino and updating my Instagram account.’
In reality, this could not be further from the truth and millennials fully understand that the more effort they put in, the greater the output.
They understand that their journey has truly just begun, expect the late nights in the office, putting in the extra hours to show dedication that will be noticed and one day pay off. They predict a return on their investment.
However, this should still be considered a two-way process, with both sides adapting their respective principles, ideas and working practices. The new generation needs to appreciate that the role of a company secretary is still considered a traditional profession and the rate of change can be slow at times.
Equally, employers need to have one eye on the future and be quick to adapt and be open to developing talent with different outlooks and pressures to what they may be used to.
Working together to get the balance right will ensure the profession continues to thrive. Failure to do so could be damaging for employers, at a time when demand for high-calibre company secretarial and governance talent is rising.
Louisa Wood and Shannon Knight are consultants at DMJ