Engaging Younger Workers in the Nonprofit Sector

This post first appeared in Volunteer Victoria’s E-Link newsletter on July 30, 2010. Sign up for E-Link and keep current with news and information from Volunteer Victoria.

The HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector has recently released their report, Tapping into the Talents of Early Career Employees. This report is based on research undertaken by the Council over the past 2 years (literature search, research, focus groups).
The purpose of the research was to help the sector improve their hiring and retention of younger employees, especially university graduates. Current studies, including one by the Council, are showing that the sector is experiencing difficulty attracting applicants from outside of the sector.
The study found that few young people are identifying a career in the non-profit sector. Citing a 2009 Ipsos Reid survey, the report notes that only 2% of young adults 16-27 years had identified the sector as a career field of choice. Other studies have mirrored this survey.
Those who did identify a career in the sector are more likely to be university students (84%). These studies also show a gender imbalance in those expressing interest, with a female to male ratio of approximately 3 to 1.
The report shows that the sector is widely seen as a training ground for young employees. These employees gain experience and then move into better paying jobs with better working conditions within government and the private sector. 
Studies that have examined the employment preferences of secondary and post-secondary students indicate that they focus on compensation (monetary and other), challenging and meaningful work, work-life balance, positive workplace environment, lifelong learning opportunities and their employer’s citizenship policies/track record.
As early career employees, Millennials also have a significant need for change. They are likely to view jobs as stepping stones and learning opportunities rather than destinations.
So how can the sector attract and retain these young talented individuals? The report provides the following 5 recommendations for the sector:

1. Develop high-quality communications materials about careers in the sector and make them available to young people and to career counsellors.
2. Work with educational institutions and others to expand access to community-engaged learning and address capacity issues that hinder quality
experiences for students.
3. Implement organizational practices that improve recruitment and retention (e.g. around salaries, skills development, job satisfaction, etc.)
4. Collaboratively pursue initiatives that support employee development.

5. Implement a range of measures that promote work-life balance for all employees.

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