How to attract and retain a younger workforce

Appical Team
Jessica Heijmans
March 14, 2023
min read
Table of Contents
To ensure the future of your organisation, it is essential to become an attractive employer for young talent. But how do you attract younger generations like the millennials and Gen Z? And how do you retain young employees? Luca van Melick of Rijkswaterstaat shares her experiences and tips on how to attract and retain young talent. 

Age diversity in the workplace

The average age of Rijkswaterstaat employees when Luca van Melick started her project was 49 years old. "Just as old as many of the bridges and other infrastructure," jokes the Trainee Coordinator of Rijkswaterstaat. "To get the organization ready for the future, new people were needed with new innovative ideas."

It was time for a new strategy. "We decided to go for a different age ratio so that the organization is more reflective of society. Therefore, the target was set that 60% of the new employees should be younger than 36 years old." Rijkswaterstaat developed various initiatives to recruit young people, with success: the number of young people increased from 9 percent to 19 percent.

A great result! But how do you achieve it? Luca shares some tips based on her experiences.

1. Get to know your target group: young talent

How do you enthuse young people to work for your company, especially now that the labour market is tight? "If you want to attract a new target group, you need to immerse yourself in them and create value for them. Who is your target group? What are their needs? And how can your organisation make a difference for them?" Rijkswaterstaat used the following strategies to do this:

Responding to current events with work-study programme 'Smarttimers'

During the pandemic, many students lost their side jobs, especially in the hospitality industry. Rijkswaterstaat therefore set up a work-study programme ('Smarttimers'). This programme gives students the opportunity to work one day a week at Rijkswaterstaat, gaining work experience in their field of study.

Offering more internships

While many companies reduced the number of internships during the pandemic, or even stopped them altogether, Luca followed a different strategy. "We decided to increase the number of internships from 300 to 600," she says. And the organisation is still reaping the benefits of that. "By doing this, we showed that we are an employer you can count on," she says. 

After an unpredictable period, this gave a lot of stability and hope to a lot of students. With the work-study programme and the internships, young people become familiar with the organisation early on. A good way to stay 'top of mind'.

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2. Remove internal resistance: connecting generations

If you want to ensure that young people get a good start in the organisation, it is important that the current employees give them a warm welcome. 

Unfortunately, this is not always easy: "Many older colleagues think of young people in terms of their children, believing they need to prove themselves by working for a contractor for ten years before they can join Rijkswaterstaat. ‘Unknown makes unloved’, as they say in Dutch."

"To overcome this resistance, it is important to lower the threshold. And that happens automatically when there are already trainees and students walking around in the office. If a junior position becomes available, this person is already known to the rest of the employees, making it the easiest option to hire the intern or trainee."

3. Retain young talent with internal transfer opportunities

Because students or trainees become familiar with the company early on through the work programme or an internship, they are more likely to stay within the company. To promote this internal flow, Rijkswaterstaat devised a so-called 'green wave'. The idea? Young people can continue to develop and flow through the organisation. In other words: they can keep 'moving on'. Think, for example, of trainees moving on to starter positions or traineeships.

Some tips from Luca to promote the internal flow:

Make young people aware of opportunities within your company

"During internships, we give young people regular updates on job vacancies, traineeships and other opportunities to stay. Are they interested? Then it is easier for them to apply. An intern has an advantage because we already know whether this person fits in with the organisation and also enjoys working for Rijkswaterstaat."

Conduct a final interview with recommendations

A traineeship at Rijkswaterstaat lasts 1.5 years on average. At the end of this traineeship, there is an interview with the trainee, mentor and trainee manager. "We look back at the trainee's development and look ahead to future plans. Does this person fit into the organisation? And what are their talents?" 

"What follows is a letter of recommendation with input from the mentor. This gives the trainee more body for the (internal) application, and thus a greater chance of getting the job. The effect? The trainee feels seen and heard, too."

Provide external career coaching during a traineeship

All Rijkswaterstaat trainees receive a career coaching programme led by an external coach. "This programme can help young people uncover the answers to questions like "Do I like this?" "Do I want to keep working here? Together with the coach, the trainees can reflect on their interests and discover what they want." 

"Of course, there is always the potential that trainees may decide that Rijkswaterstaat is not the right fit for them and they leave. But this will always be as friends, with the possibility of them returning in the future. Such an outcome is preferable to them remaining in a job they are dissatisfied with"

A good employer in good times and bad

As mentioned earlier, creating a good workplace for young people is a process that takes time and energy. But making sure your organisation is a place where young people feel welcome and can develop their talents can pay off in many ways. 

By investing in young talent and development opportunities, you are investing in the future of your organisation. Therefore, always strive towards being a good employer, in good and bad times

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