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Candy Ho is the inaugural assistant professor for integrative career and capstone learning at the University of the Fraser Valley and chair of the CERIC board.

Employers are having a hard time recruiting young talent. This challenge has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but it existed before. Sixty-six per cent of executives report challenges finding young talent now compared with 51 per cent in 2013, according to a survey from CERIC, a charitable organization that advances education and research in career counselling and development, and Environics. While the tendency for employers may be to look at external factors driving this challenge – skills gaps, inadequate preparation in post-secondary and lack of motivation – employers need to turn inward to focus on what they can control to attract young workers.

The first step is to better understand what early-career candidates are looking for.

Young workers (late millennials and Gen Z, generally ranging from ages 15 to late 30s) are seen as the socially conscious generations. Work to them is more than just making a living – it’s also making meaning. Organizational alignment with their personal values is important.

The pandemic has provided an opportunity for people to re-evaluate their priorities and life goals, with many – both by choice and by circumstance – deciding to quit or shift to roles that better align with their values and the life they want to lead.

(Re)defining career development

The first shift employers need to make to better engage young talent is to see an individual’s career as more than simply their job or their work. As Canada Career Month gets under way, now is an opportune time to reflect on the broad nature of career development, defined by CERIC as “the lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future.”

An individual’s many potential life roles – student, family member, citizen, entrepreneur, employee – are interconnected and are reinforced by their transferable skills. For instance, as an assistant professor teaching career development, I regularly help students reflect on their experiences and decisions. This enhances my role as a parent, where I support my high-energy toddler to manage his emotions and reflect on his actions.

This shift in mindset will enable employers to better connect with and retain young workers. With two-thirds of companies being forced to adjust timelines for projects because of labour shortages and 60 per cent of those companies facing lost revenue, according to a Business Council of Canada survey, bringing in new talent is a critical bottom-line issue.

Take the résumé and cover letter. This traditional application process doesn’t enable people to demonstrate who they are holistically and what they can contribute. Consider a refugee who is starting a new life in Canada – learning a language, navigating complex government bureaucracy and searching for work. Their resilience and adaptability are unlikely to be recognized in their résumé.

Solely assessing candidates based on their résumé strips great people from the talent pool who don’t fit the mould. In addition to these typical application documents – or even in lieu of them – organizations might consider submissions such as audio or video résumés and portfolios. These alternative formats invite candidates to narrate their stories and articulate how their life experiences would fulfill role qualifications.

Ditch the career ladder

Employers should recognize that prospective employees – including early-career workers – may have measures of career success other than climbing up. By designing organizational pathways or skill-building opportunities outside of the career ladder, employers can position themselves as desirable workplaces attuned to employees’ shifting aspirations and needs. Career-development professionals can help organizations implement innovative solutions such as job rotation programs, stretch assignments or cross-training to facilitate skills development and boost engagement.

Finally, this should be common sense, but often doesn’t transpire into action: Recruitment is just the beginning and employers need to continue to help employees find their place in the organization and be their whole selves at work.

For example, for Traction on Demand, Salesforce’s largest consulting and application development firm, the onboarding process is a two-way exchange: New employees are introduced to the organization, its culture and people, and are also encouraged to consider how they want to contribute and make a difference.

While this may seem more feasible within a large corporation, small businesses can also support new employees’ career development. The book Retain and Gain: Career Management for Small Business, written by workforce futurist Lisa Taylor, offers numerous low-cost activities that small businesses can use to engage and retain staff.

To weather increasing competition for workers and a looming recession, employers must take strategic actions to ensure they’re attracting top talent. By investing in career development based on a holistic view of employees, businesses can position themselves as an employer of choice for younger workers and people at all stages of their career.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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