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January 18, 2016 Viewpoint

Investing in millennials is an investment in Worcester

Anyone even remotely involved in the Worcester business community knows that there is a laser-focus on revitalizing the region's portfolio. Worcester has long suffered from the outside (and sometimes internal) perception that it is too provincial and stagnant. Government and private sector leaders have come together and put Worcester on the map as the smarter alternative to Boston. Just look at all the changes to downtown.

In order to reinvent Worcester, something more than rebuilding infrastructure is needed. We must be honest with ourselves about the elephant in the room – our inability to compete with other cities in attracting and retaining millennials.

It is predicted that in 10 years, millennials (people between the ages of 18 and 34 today) will comprise around 75 percent of the global workforce, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey. In order to survive and grow, it is imperative for Worcester to have a strong millennial population. But how do we get them to choose Worcester? Although updating downtown is a huge step in the right direction, the more subtle answer is the more difficult. We need to understand and cater to their value system.

Millennials are often misunderstood. They are labeled as lazy, disloyal and entitled. While it is true that millennials are more likely to jump from job to job unlike their gen-Xer parents, it is not because millennials are not talented or are disloyal – it is because they are not being correctly motivated. Though compensation is still a large factor for millennials, career development, personal recognition, leadership opportunities and work-life balance carry much more weight. To compete in the job market, we need to adapt and create the work environments that millennials seek.

Gen-Xers and above remember the sacrifices they made for career success – missed youth soccer games and parent-teacher conferences, and ultimately, many divorced. Millennials witnessed those sacrifices and as a collective group have decided to modify it. Millennials want flexible schedules, the ability to telecommute and real vacation time. Gone are the days when employees will obediently sit at a desk from 9 to 5 just for the sake of sitting there. Millennials insist on co-parenting with their spouses, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having me time. Companies in competing cities are investing significant resources in updating their technology to better accommodate employees' work-life balance. Worcester needs to jump on board.

Millennials want to work where they can grow quickly. One perception of Worcester that is attractive to millennials is that someone who is young but talented and hungry can quickly rise in the ranks. Never underestimate the appeal of being the big fish in a small pond. To keep millennials engaged, we need to treat them like future leaders and truly believe it. Mentor them. Teach them about the business – not just things in their particular job title. Include them in higher level meetings and ask their opinions. Assign them leadership roles on projects. Tell them when they have done a good job. Tell them when they have done a bad job. Introduce them to other leaders in the business community. Involve them in the community. One thing Worcester is not lacking is a sense of community. Get them to buy into that.

Ultimately, Worcester's success depends on our ability to attract millennial talent. This requires us to understand them and adapt to them. Otherwise, the stereotypes of an outdated and stagnant Worcester will be self-fulfilling.

AiVi Nguyen, a partner at Bowditch & Dewey, focuses her practice on business and employment litigation.

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