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Owen McCorquodale found his footing at Corus Entertainment in Toronto.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Like many young people, Owen McCorquodale had specific ideas about what he wanted in a potential employer when he was getting started.

"The No. 1 thing I was looking for ... was a company that offered opportunities to grow," recalled Mr. McCorquodale, a communications manager with Corus Entertainment. "Another priority for me was to work for a company that values work-life balance. I didn't want to work 24/7, I wanted to be able to have a life outside of work."

Six years ago, when he was 25, he landed an entry-level job at Corus, which is serious about attracting and retaining younger workers. The workplace reflects that attitude.

When Corus moved to new headquarters on Toronto's waterfront in 2010, it installed a three-storey slide. There are kitchens on every floor and plenty of open spaces designed for collaboration. And in the summer months, June to August, staff are allowed to leave work at noon on Fridays.

As well, employees can sign up for a wide range of on-site courses and have one-on-one access to the company's senior executives who provide career advice and interpersonal support.

"There's always been clear steps to advancement and it's really well laid out," Mr. McCorquodale said of Corus's approach to staff development. "If I come up with an idea that makes sense my bosses will support it. It's important to me that I'm able to contribute."

Many of the initiatives aimed at younger workers were based on the results of a biennial employee survey, which measures employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Attracting and keeping younger workers makes good business sense, especially as the so-called millennials – those born between 1981 and 2000 – move into the work force. Over the course of the next decade, as the demographics of the workplace continue to shift, Canadian businesses will likely face high turnover rates.

In the wake of the recession, many companies have delayed their planning for the expected wave of retirements, but the loss of experienced workers is a serious threat to business, involving loss of knowledge, a decrease in productivity and increased costs associated with training new workers.

A study by consulting firm Accenture found that while millennials say they plan to stay in their first job for a long time – more than 40 per cent said they expect to stay at least five years – the reality is that an estimated 70 per cent leave their first position within two years.

"Employers need to build bench strength to prepare for the transition and the transfer of knowledge as the boomers retire," said Sean Lyons, a professor of business at University of Guelph in Ontario. "With millennials' turnover rates being three times those of boomers, employers will be faced with a 'leaky bucket' of turnover if they don't find ways to attract and keep younger workers."

The most common reasons for young workers leaving their jobs are a lack of opportunity and mentorship. According to Brainstorm Strategy Group, a Toronto based consulting firm that specializes in campus recruitment, 81 per cent of new graduates want to be connected with an experienced mentor on the job.

Some employers might not see the value in hiring and training younger workers, only to watch them depart for new opportunities. But there is an argument to be made for having them on staff: Young workers tend to be more comfortable with technology than older workers, are innovative, and can offer a fresh perspective on issues.

"There's a huge appetite for understanding these generational differences and that understanding gap is still where we're at to a large degree," Prof. Lyons said. "Most companies ask, 'What's going on with these kids, why are they like this, and how can we fix them?' What people need to do to retain millennials is to find ways to make work better for them."

Toronto-Dominion Bank has been voted one of Canada's top employers for young people, in a survey published by Mediacorp. The bank has policies and programs to support development at every step in a person's career, especially during the early stages. The bank also offers perks such as paid study days, tuition subsidies, and flexible work hours.

"We don't have Ping-Pong tables and some of the cool stuff, but instead we focus on allowing our employees to take ownership of their careers," said Shane Creamer, TD's associate vice-president of talent acquisition.

"Young people get excited about all the different types of jobs and opportunities they can have in a large organization and being left to carve their own path."

What millennials want:

Sensitivity to work-life balance

Have their voices heard

A fun working environment

Helpful feedback

Career development and mentorship opportunities

What millennials want to give to employers:

Lots of energy

Fresh perspective and ideas

Technological know-how

Honest opinions


Special to The Globe and Mail