As newly graduated college students leave behind their schools this month, a fifth generation of employees is entering the workforce for the first time.
The new graduates are part of Generation Z, which demographers categorize as those born between 1995 and 2010.
One of those is Justin Andrus-Bearden, who’s set to earn his degree at Missouri State University in December. With time spent in the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies program and internships, Andrus-Bearden has been exposed to a pair of the options human resources professionals encourage students to experience in the workforce.
The Springfield native is parlaying those opportunities into a job right out of college.
“When I graduate, I plan to go full time with Miller Engineering,” he said. “I know I want to be in Springfield.”
At Springfield-based accounting firm BKD LLP, college campuses have long been fertile ground to find employees, said Julie Cummings, chief human resources officer.
Last year, over 600 hires were made companywide through college campuses, with 250-plus as full-time hires, she said. The remainder was internships.
“We do a lot of hiring at the campus level, whether it’s for internships or for college graduates,” Cummings said.
To build its 2,700-employee pool across 17 states, the firm recruits nationally from 105 college campuses, Cummings said, including Missouri State, Drury and Evangel Universities, University of Oklahoma and University of Arkansas.
Cummings was among those who spoke May 2 at a Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce panel about the emerging workforce, best practices to engage with college students and company programs to create meaningful connections.
Another chamber panelist, Scot Scobee of Springfield ReManufacturing Corp., said the company realizes a need to connect with very young individuals. Some are getting exposed to manufacturing through facility tours, beginning in third-grade.
“We’ve got to re-educate this new generation on what manufacturing is,” he said, noting the need to stress the large role technology plays in the industry, as well as dispel some misconceptions of manufacturing jobs being dirty and unsafe.
A component of dispelling the myth is what Scobee calls “boutique recruiting events,” in which students, parents and teachers are invited to see the SRC divisions in operation. Under SRC Holdings Corp., 10 subsidiaries specialize in remanufacturing, warehousing, logistics, packaging and material salvaging.
Scobee, human resources director at the division called SRC Heavy Duty, said getting involved in and being a major sponsor of the GO CAPS program since its debut in 2015 has connected SRC with high school students. “GO CAPS serves as that bridge between industry and education,” he said, adding the company also utilizes internships and a youth registered apprenticeship program in partnership with Ozarks Technical Community College.
“With these programs, we created this superhighway of lanes and opportunities. But we absolutely need the traditional lanes as well,” Scobee said of students coming from four-year degree and summer internship programs.
With SRC Holdings subsidiaries reaching $600 million and 1,800 employees in 2018, the companies average around 25 interns every summer, he said. Sometimes half of them are at SRC Heavy Duty. He said one or two interns typically get hired on full time at the end of each summer.
At BKD, Cummings said the company looks to get its interns immersed in the culture. It also gives them meaningful work during their internship, while exposing them to day-to-day life at the firm.
“We have really good success in converting our interns into full-time hires,” Cummings said, noting a 100% conversion rate in Springfield and 78% companywide. “That approach has really delivered some high results.”
Outside the box
For Andrus-Bearden, his internship with Miller Engineering was a direct transition based on his time in GO CAPS.
“I think the path I’ve been able to take has really benefited me in the classroom, but I’ve also been able to have a really great experience on my resume,” he said.
Andrus-Bearden started in the GO CAPS program as a high school senior and job shadowed at Miller Engineering. That experience segued into a summer internship via a $1,000 scholarship program at Missouri University of Science & Technology that allowed him to work at Miller. Transferring last year from Missouri S&T to MSU, where he majors in civil engineering, Andrus-Bearden started part-time work at Miller in spring 2018.
He plans to intern this fall at Advanced Concrete Technology Inc. to pick up some real-world experience with the construction industry before returning to Miller.
Acknowledging that the internship journey offers no guarantees of full-time employment when completed, Andrus-Bearden credits the GO CAPS program for setting him up on the path.
“I don’t think I would have ever known to job shadow at Miller Engineering if not for GO CAPS,” he said. “I otherwise would have had a lot harder time and had to devote a lot more attention to career preparation.”
From a student’s perspective, companies with a presence on college campuses are in an advantageous position, Andrus-Bearden said. Those companies sometimes invite students to social or community service events.
“Those companies seem like the ones I would be interested in as they are taking time out of their day,” he said. “An open-door atmosphere is a great way to attract students.”
Cummings said BKD participates in campus job fairs, but also works with professors to get into the classrooms to conduct training or even teach some in class.
“We also conduct webinars to share learning,” she said. “We engage in a variety of levels. We’re constantly exploring opportunities where we can add greater value.”
A 2017 Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data reported 56 million millennials – those ages 21 to 36 in that year – were working or looking for a job. That outnumbered the 53 million Gen Xers, born 1961-81, and 41 million baby boomers, born 1946-64.
As millennials now make up the workplace majority, Scobee said it’s critical for employers to consider more than compensation.
“We have to consider different things than we did in the past,” he said, citing flexibility in work schedules, paid family leave and tuition reimbursement, which he said SRC offers at 100% to its employees.
“It’s much more complex from a compensation package than it was 20 years ago,” he said.
Cummings said it’s now a two-way street between senior leadership and younger generations.
“It’s just as important for our senior leaders to learn from the generation entering the workforce on more efficient ways to work or how to leverage technology in different ways,” she said.
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