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Recruitment and Retention of Early-Career Technical Talent: What Young Employees Want from Employers: A study of the workplace attributes that attract early-career workers suggests that Millennials may not be so different from earlier generations.

The millennial generation--those born between 1980 and 1994 (ages 23-37 at the time of this study)--is the largest generational segment of the US population, with 2.5 billion members, outnumbering baby boomers; they now outnumber older generations in the workforce (Weinbaum, Girven, and Oberholtzer 2016). This means R&D organizations seeking to attract and retain the best technical talent, and especially early-career talent, must give attention to the working styles and preferences of these workers.

Much media coverage suggests that millennials are fundamentally different from previous generations, with very different preferences and expectations for their work lives. Often, this perspective is supported by changing trends in workplace environments, many of which are led by the tech industry companies presumably competing for top millennial talent.

An IRI Research working group set out to explore millennials' work-life preferences and identify the attributes of workplace environments and cultures that are attractive to this group. Through a literature review, a survey of technical workers across generations, and case studies of organizations that have had some success at attracting and retaining early-career talent, the group explored the work-life preferences of millennial technical preferences and the implications for R&D organizations seeking young technical talent.

Needs of the Multigenerational Workforce

According to Weinbaum, Girven, and Oberholtzer (2016), millennials constitute the most educated, most informed, and most interconnected generation in history, making them highly desirable employees. They are also now the largest generation, making it critical that R&D organizations seeking to sustain innovation programs facing baby boomer retirements figure out how to attract and keep them.

Millennials have been shaped by being born into an emerging digital world; as a result, they share some unique characteristics. Howe and Strauss (2008) identified seven core traits of this population: they consider themselves special and tend to be sheltered, confident, team oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving. Thompson (2011), in a Pew-sponsored study, also identifies confidence as a core millennial characteristic and also notes above average levels of self-expression, liberal tendencies, and openness to change.

A growing body of evidence suggests that workers are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work, regardless of generation. For instance, in a study of 1,700 employees, Pfau (2017) found that about the same percentage of millennials (25 percent), Gen Xers (21 percent) and baby boomers (23 percent) want to make a positive impact on their organization. A group of researchers from George Washington University and the Department of Defense analyzed more than 20 published studies examining generational differences and concluded that meaningful differences among generations probably don't exist in the workplace (Costanza et al. 2012). The minor differences that do appear are likely more attributable to factors such as stage of life than to generational membership. In a study commissioned by CNBC, Liesman's (2015) findings echo these results: looking at workers' assessment of the importance of six traits in a potential employer--ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity, and reputation for hiring the brightest--Liesman found that millennial preferences are about the same as the broader population on all six traits.

Overall, we identified six categories of incentives that millennials consider when looking at a potential employer:

* Salary and benefits

* Professional development opportunities

* Purposeful work

* Flexible work arrangements

* Organizational ethos

Salary and Benefits: Financial rewards are a proven motivator, for millennials as for other workers. In a 2016 survey, Deloitte found that pay and financial benefits drive millennials' choice of employer more than any other factor. In the study, one in three respondents rated "lack of compensation increase" as the primary reason for leaving an employer; "additional bonuses or other financial rewards" were the second most effective retention incentive. Other studies suggest this is a common motivator across generations; Kochanski and Ledford (2001) identified monetary rewards and indirect financial rewards (benefits and perquisites) as the top two means of retaining technical professionals. Even within this apparently straightforward category, however, there is room for variation. Kochanski and Ledford (2001) and Holden (2015) found that an across-the-board increase does little to lock in the highest performers; broader pay rates, cash "stay bonuses," and stock option grants for high performers are potentially more effective for long-term retention.

Professional Development Opportunities: Millennials, like other workers, are also motivated by opportunities to expand their capabilities. The Deloitte (2016) study found that, after salary and other financial benefits, development opportunities were a primary motivator; 71 percent of those who indicated they were likely to leave their jobs within the next two years were unhappy with how their leadership skills were being developed. This finding is supported by Thompson's (2011) finding that millennials want to excel in their field. The mechanisms for providing development opportunities may vary. Young (2014) suggested that companies adopt a systematic approach to grow talent throughout employees' careers, including a robust on-the-job training program, a mandatory continuous education program, and a cross-functional rotation program.

Purposeful Work: Meaningful work is a proven motivator; for millennials, it is a priority. As Comaford (2016) argued, millennials don't just work for a paycheck--they want a purpose. They want to be involved, get their hands dirty, work with other people, and feel like they are a part of something (Patel 2017). This may be even more true for technical talent, who tend to enter the world of R&D because they are generally curious people who want to make a difference, whether in their field or in the world at large; for technical workers, that means an "opportunity to create something of unique value is the greatest motivator" (Holden 2015).

Flexible work arrangements: One area in which millennials may differ from older workers is in their insistence on flexibility. In the Deloitte (2016) study, 88 percent of respondents said they wished for a greater opportunity to start and finish work at times they choose; 75 percent said they would like to work from home or other locations where they feel more productive. Weinbaum, Girven, and Oberholtzer (2016) found that 47 percent of millennials prefer the freedom to work and play from anywhere, at any time, with no restrictions. Similarly, Scanlon, Zupsansky, and Shapiro (2016) found that 90 percent of participants in their study would prefer to work at a time of their choice as opposed to a set schedule, and nearly 50 percent said they would take flexible hours or more vacation time over increased pay. Although corporate response to these desires has been slow--the Deloitte report observed that the current level of flexibility offered by most companies is not consistent with millennials' desires--companies are moving to accommodate them. Kochanski and Ledford observe, as far back as 2001, that flexible hours and telecommuting are becoming more the norm than the exception for many employers. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (2007) predicts 50 percent growth in employees working from home by 2020.

Organizational Ethos: One driver of retention is affiliation, defined by Kochanski and Ledford (2001) as "the feeling of belonging to an admirable organizaton that shares the employee's values" (p. 33). Millennials in particular feel that it is important that their ethics and values are reflected in their employer's culture (Thompson 2011). In the Deloitte (2016) study, respondents identified as the most important business values putting employees first and having a solid foundation of trust and integrity, as well as customer care and high-quality, reliable products, attention to the environment, and social responsibility. In interviews with R&D workers, Holden (2015) found that technical leaders care deeply about their employer's vision for the future of its product landscape and that such vision accounts for worker loyalty more than salary or other benefits.

Especially as baby boomers retire in growing numbers, companies would do well to pay attention to the wants and needs of the next generation of technical workers. Insights into the types of workplace attributes and professional development opportunities that early career technical talent are looking for will help give organizations an edge in their recruitment and retention efforts. To more fully explore the wants and needs of early-career technical workers in particular, we conducted a two-pronged study, including a survey of early-career professionals and set of case studies of companies identified as successful in attracting and retaining early-career talent.

The Study

The objective of this study was to identify attributes of workplace environment and culture that support recruitment and retention of early-career technical professionals, defined as individuals in the workforce who are five years or less from completion of their highest degree or under the age of 35.

The work began with a literature review and informational interviews with two subject matter experts (SMEs) to gain a general understanding of the issues around retention of early-career talent and to generate preliminary assumptions to drive the subsequent study. The output of these activities provided the foundation for a roundtable session with IRI members, held at the IRI Research Remix meeting in February 2017. The 35 attendees were presented with preliminary assumptions generated from the literature review and SME interviews and asked if they agreed or disagreed with the assumptions. Attendees' responses were captured by the research team. Based on those responses, the team finalized a list of common assumptions that drive employers' approach to early-career talent:

* There are early-career technical professionals that are drawn to R&D organizations to do technical work.

* Workplace environment and culture and professional development opportunities are key drivers in recruitment and retention of early-career technical talent.

* Today's early-career technical professionals have different views than previous generations on the workplace attributes that are essential.

* R&D organizations are in competition for today's top talent, with regard to both recruitment and retention.

* R&D organizations compete for a limited pool of talent via compensation, rewards, recognition programs, and career development.

The team then developed survey and case-study interview questions to test these assumptions.

The Survey

The online survey consisted of 18 questions that asked about demographics (age range, gender, race), work background (industry, years of experience, number of companies worked for), recruitment (how respondent was recruited, role of internships in recruitment), and retention (why respondent stays at current job, why respondent left previous jobs), as well as desired attributes in the workplace environment (physical office space, culture attributes), other elements of the job (work-life balance policies, benefits, professional development), and length of assignments (ideal project length, ideal role length, and expected number of employers through career). For most questions, respondents were asked to select either the most relevant option or the top three factors from a list of five to ten possibilities; an Other option was also provided.

The target audience was based on a convenience sample (Zikmund 2003); responses were solicited via e-mail from professionals working in IRI member organizations and from other relevant organizations, including the case study firms. A total of 398 responses were received; 56 percent were male and 44 percent female. Since receiving their last degree, 67 percent had held a full-time job with one company, 21 percent with two companies, and 12 percent with three or more. Respondents represented many sectors, including aerospace, chemicals, consumer products, computer software, electronics, food, government labs, health care, and R&D services.

In the respondent pool, 306 of the 398 responses (77 percent) fell into the age bracket defined as early career (ages 22-35). These results were further segmented into subgroups--ages 22-25 (recent graduates, 81 respondents), 26-30 (middle millennials, 129 respondents), and 31-35 (older millennials, 96 respondents). The remaining 92 respondents were age 36 or older; these constituted a reference group, later-career talent, against which early-career respondent data was compared. Responses were reported as percent of responses within age groups to facilitate comparisons across age groups/ career stages.

Recruitment, Retention, and Attrition

Survey results showed wide variations across age groups in recruitment methods, although there was less variation in retention factors and attrition motivators, suggesting that what makes employees stay may not be generational.

Respondents reported different recruitment methods across age groups (Table 1). Online job postings, the most common method overall, were least common for recent graduates (16 percent), who reported being recruited most often via internships (25 percent) and at career fairs (23 percent). Overall, 15 percent of respondents were recruited via an internship. Networking, the second most common method, was more common for older millennials (32 percent) and later-career workers (34 percent) than for recent graduates (19 percent) or middle millennials (18 percent).

The top two factors in retention across all age groups were work-life balance and salary and benefits (Table 2), with some difference in the relative importance of the two factors: work-life balance was the most frequently selected response for all three of the millennial age groups, and salary and benefits were selected slightly more frequently by later-career respondents. Professional development opportunities and advancement opportunities were next in importance for all groups. These two categories were particularly significant for older millennials, those age 31-35; these workers are likely in the core of their career development years. Across all age groups, relationships with colleagues (35 percent-39 percent) was selected more than relationship with supervisor (11 percent-28 percent), suggesting that a collegial work environment and the ability to connect with others at work is a key factor for all professionals. Organizational ethos and physical work environment were less important across age groups, even among millennials, suggesting that the elaborate physical office environments offered by the high-technology industry are not essential for retaining technical talent. Other reasons for staying in a job, offered as write-in responses, included location, enjoyment/interest in the work, job security/seniority, and lack of alternative opportunities.

The reasons for which respondents reported having left a job largely tracked with the reasons given for staying (Table 3). Salary and benefits and lack of advancement opportunities--key factors in responses to the retention question--were the top two causes of attrition across the full sample. There were some differences between retention and attrition motivators, however. Attitude of management was frequently listed as a cause of attrition--the third most frequent response across the sample and in most age groups--even though attitude of management was the least frequent reason for retention. Work-life balance was only the sixth most frequent cause for attrition, despite its being a primary factor in retention. Write-in reasons for leaving included lack of enjoyment of the work, a feeling that the work did not utilize the worker's skills, and lack of challenge.

Interestingly, our respondents did not report expectations of mobility across employers. More than 50 percent of all age groups anticipate working for only one to three companies before retirement (Table 4). Early-career respondents did not expect to work for more companies than did later-career respondents. These results should encourage optimism in employers seeking to retain early-career technical talent.

Work-Life Balance, Benefits, and Professional Development

Work-life balance, benefits, and professional development capture the benefits an employer offers beyond salary. Accepted wisdom would suggest that millennials have very different priorities in these three categories than previous generations, but our data do not uniformly bear out this assumption.

In work-life balance, for instance, the policies that respondents reported expecting from their employers were largely consistent across age groups (Table 5). Flexible hours was the most frequent response across age groups, at 83 percent to 91 percent (though young graduates were most likely to select this item). Remote working was the second most frequent response, with more than 60 percent of all age groups selecting this item. Paid time off was more important for early-career professionals than for later-career professionals--around 60 percent of each of the millennial age groups reported wanting at least three weeks of vacation, while only 40 percent of the later-career sample selected this item. Given that most older workers already have at least three weeks of vacation, it is not surprising that vacation time was more an issue for early-career professionals. Interestingly, another emerging trend from the tech industry, unlimited vacation (Ain 2017), was not a common selection for any group. Paid family leave showed a similar spread, with 50 percent to 60 percent of millennials selecting this item but only 40 percent of the later-career sample; here, again, the difference may be a result of the difference in life stage--later-career professionals are not as likely to be concerned with starting families, the most common reason for family leave. Other options suggested were policies to allow flexible work arrangements (part-time, job sharing, ability to buy more vacation) and desire for a culture/manager that enables work-life balance.

Respondents' selections for preferred benefits were more traditional than those typically associated with millennial workplace trends (Table 6). The top selection across age groups, with similar percentages in all groups, was matching 401k contributions. Quality health plan was second, although this item was less frequently selected by early-career professionals than by the later-career reference group. A few age-specific trends were found in lower-frequency responses. On-site childcare was most commonly selected by middle millennials, and social events was selected far more frequently by young professionals, with frequency of selection falling dramatically by age. Student loan repayment was also selected by more than 40 percent of each of the two younger early-career groups. Other desired benefits, suggested in write-in responses, were reimbursement for education and attendance at conferences and trainings, transparency of gender parity, short-term assignments, food and coffee, low-cost health insurance, and incentives that align with performance.

Professional development is a key motivator in recruitment and retention. Our respondents had specific ideas about what constitutes a strong professional development program (Table 7). Those ideas didn't differ notably across age groups. Specific paths to advancement, mentoring, technical training courses, rotation opportunities in R&D, rotation opportunities outside R&D, continuous feedback, and leadership training were all selected by 40 percent to 60 percent of both early-career and later-career respondents. There were some differences in the ordering of those elements--mentoring was the top response for recent graduates, and opportunities for continuous feedback was also selected more frequently by younger age groups. The evenly distributed set of responses suggests that professional development plans should be multifaceted to include training, work experience, and mentoring. Other suggestions included proactive management involvement in development, challenging work assignments, and experienced colleagues to learn from.

Length of Assignments

Job rotation was identified as one aspect of career development that is important to the early-career respondents in our survey. The length and variety of project and role assignments an employee takes on influence opportunities for career development; further, frequent rotations will provide varied job experiences without forcing the employee to move to a different company to gain those experiences.

Although the early-career professionals in our sample did not expect to change employers, many do expect mobility in their assignments. Across age groups, 6-12 months was identified as the ideal length of time to be assigned to a project (Table 8). Less than 1 percent of early-career respondents and only 5 percent of later-career respondents selected the longest period offered, greater than three years. The ideal length of time in a given role varied across age groups, with the period selected shorter for early-career than for later-career professionals (Table 9). The ideal period was longer as workers aged: recent graduates most frequently selected 2-6 months, while middle and late Millenniais most frequently indicated 13-18 months as the ideal, and later-career respondents said 19 months-3 years. This variation suggests that early-career professionals are looking for a broad set of experiences and exposure both within and beyond R&D, through assignments to both new projects and new roles. Rotation programs and lateral movement opportunities may help address this desire.

Case Studies

As a follow-up to the survey, and to provide a company perspective and help identify best practices, we conducted case studies of firms that were leading the field in recruiting and retaining early-career talent. The research team identified 15 IRI member firms, and one nonmember firm, known to the research team or identified by roundtable participants as being qualitatively good at recruitment and retention. Three of those firms were selected for case study; the sample was chosen to provide diversity of location and size as well as for individual firms' availability and willingness to participate. The case study firms included a large, multinational energy management firm, a medium-sized industrial materials company, and a nine-year-old chemical industry startup. Three structured interviews were conducted with representatives from each firm--one each with a representative from human resources, a hiring manager, and an early-career professional at each firm--for a total of nine case interviews. The one-hour interviews were conducted by phone by a member of the research team. The interviewer began by providing an overview of the study, then worked through nine questions, created by the research team to address the foundational assumptions driving the study and to support findings from the survey, to identify common attributes of workplace environments that are successful in recruiting and retaining early-career technical professionals and to identify characteristics of successful development plans for early-career hires in the first two years of employment. A second person from the team took notes while the interviews were conducted.

The case studies reinforced the survey findings, identifying some of the same key factors for retention. The in-depth interviews also uncovered some preliminary best practices with regard to finding the right talent, engagements, and transparency (see "The Case Studies," above).

The case studies echoed many of the findings of the survey. As in the survey data, interviewees told us that they had found that work-life balance, professional development, continuous feedback, rotation plans, liberal vacation policy, and leadership are all important to the early-career professional. For example, one early-career interviewee commented, "It helps to feel that you are taking care of your life outside the work and still able to perform whatever you are doing." Similarly, regarding the importance of career development (identified in the survey as a key motivator), another early-career interviewee told us, "I love to attend training, courses, and classes." Conversely, also similar to survey findings, workspace environment was not a factor for recruiting or retaining employees at these companies, according to our interviewees.

Our case companies had developed some key practices in recruitment, work-life balance, professional development, and company leadership that support their success in attracting and retaining critical early-career talent.


The hiring managers we interviewed reported difficulty in hiring individuals with the right talent. One interviewee commented that even an individual with a great resume may not be able to synthesize information or have the breadth of knowledge and flexibility of intellect to collaborate across disciplines and apply knowledge in areas outside their expertise. All interviewees said that campus recruiting is very important in finding the right talent. Relationships with professors are key for doctorate recruitment, and broader school relationships help in recruiting undergraduates. One hiring manager commented that targeting students who ask the most questions at campus events is an effective tactic. Finally, internships were identified as being particularly useful for the US firm, which was located in a rural area.

Work-Life Balance

The case studies confirmed the importance of flexible hours and remote working opportunities on retention seen in the survey. As one early-career interviewee commented, workers feel the "need to have a balance between work and personal life so with this benefit of flexibility in hours we can complete our personal tasks." An interviewee at another firm agreed that flexible hours and remote work are important, noting that one "colleague works from 5:00 am to 2:00pm because of childcare needs."

Case firms took varying approaches to another important element of work-life balance: vacation time. Two of the firms had generous vacation policies that were appreciated by interviewees. Interestingly, one trendy benefit--unlimited vacation--was not seen by survey respondents as a strong factor in employment decisions; the one firm in our case study group that offered unlimited vacation had seen mixed results. Indeed, the management in that firm was concerned that employees were not taking enough vacation under the plan. As a result, the firm, which has not historically tracked vacation, is now considering tracking it in a protected way to help target employees who are not taking enough time off and encourage them to use their vacation benefits.

Professional Development

Career development and training are among the most important factors in retaining talent, and case companies recognize this. One leader commented that although some firms are reluctant to provide training because of concerns that employees might leave after the training, leaving the company with no return on its training investment, his experience is that the more the company trains, the more people are happier and thus more likely to stay. The case firms took a range of approaches to this issue, from extensive rotation plans to a casual training program, consisting mostly of technical talks but also of topics in personal and professional development, whose weekly sessions are open to the entire firm. Still, our early-career interviewees all mentioned the importance of training and indicated a desire for more training opportunities.

One important element of employee development plans, mentioned by both management and early-career interviewees, is continuous feedback. A manager at the medium-sized materials company noted that it is important for senior managers to spend time with talent to allow for two-way feedback and to ensure that individuals are visible to executives. A standout in this area was the startup firm. Under that firm's intense feedback system, each employee receives semi-annual reviews from their manager; those review sessions take as much as eight hours. These intensive reviews demonstrate to the employee that the firm cares about his or her development. The "radical candor" (Scott 2017) of these sessions enables employees to develop plans to build on their strengths and bolster their weaknesses. The plans are then reviewed at the next review session.

All three firms understood the need for a rotational plan, defined as a job rotation program that gives employees the opportunity to develop a range of skills in a variety of jobs (Heathfield 2016), to support employee development. Rotational assignments can also help the organization identify what an individual is truly good at and help the individual understand his or her true passion. Rotational programs can be challenging to implement because of the need to match rotation length to project requirements and the need to find the appropriate balance of autonomy and support for new hires on rotational assignments--too much support fosters lack of self-discovery while too much autonomy may leave an employee to get stuck on difficult problems, possibly eroding his or her confidence. As employees move from one assignment to another, it is also important that they understand the importance of identifying multiple key learnings from each assignment. Carefully matching cross-training tasks with skills can help accelerate soft skill growth, making rotational assignments valuable, rather than frustrating, for all.

In one case company's rotational plan, new employees rotate through three company departments--Inspection and Testing, Engineering Technology, and Manufacturing Methods--to gain experience in a set of defined areas of focus (Figure 1). The company has found that the program provides a range of benefits to employees, including deeper understanding of the company's technology as it relates to products, end-to-end knowledge of the product development process, and an orientation to the company's project-oriented culture, all of which also contribute to the company's success.


Multiple interviewees talked about the importance of leadership in attracting and retaining early-career talent. Most notably, interviewees noted the importance of transparency in leadership--leaders should provide a clear understanding of how the firm is performing and where it is heading. One interviewee noted, "Transparency is crucial to making the company successful. It is a sign of respect. When there is a lot going on that isn't being talked about, it makes employees nervous." Another individual said, "When there is nothing to hide, people will not be afraid nor looking outside the firm for employment."

Beyond keeping people comfortable, transparency can help keep employees engaged; workers are more likely to be engaged when they understand the firm's goals and how their work fits with those goals. As one interviewee observed, not everyone can be engaged in high-profile projects, but everyone must see how they fit into the bigger picture.

Early-career talent interviewees revealed that poor management was a strong reason to leave a job, confirming findings from the survey data. One employee said, "If there is not a good attitude from your manager to you, there is going to be a problem." Likewise, we heard from another interviewee, "If you are working for someone who doesn't treat you properly, who is hard on you, and not helping you becoming a better employee, it makes it really hard to come to work every day." In short, our findings, in the survey and in case interviews, confirmed the adage that people don't leave jobs; they leave poor managers.

More Similarities than Differences

Our findings suggest that common assumptions that early-career technical professionals are somehow different from their older counterparts are not correct. There are more similarities between the two groups than differences. To remain competitive, companies need to provide an environment that meets the needs of all employees while providing additional programs of particular interest for early-career professionals.

All employees want a competitive salary, healthcare benefits, a healthy 401K package, a strong professional development plan, flexible hours, and the ability to work remotely. This finding is consistent with the literature (Deloitte 2016). In our survey, one in three respondents who had left a job gave lack of compensation increase as the primary reason; similarly, additional bonuses or other financial rewards was the second most commonly noted retention incentive.

Salary and benefits are important, but leadership and good management matter too. Although our respondents didn't give relationship with supervisor as a key factor in the decision to stay at a job, those who had left jobs indicated that the relationship with the supervisor was frequently an important factor. The case studies confirm that having a supervisor who supports the professional's career development is important. In addition, good management practices around transparency and engagement were also cited as the factors that help provide the right work environment.

The biggest differences we found between early--and later-career professionals were a desire among younger workers for quicker rotation and more continuous feedback. While most early-career professionals expect to stay with the same company for much of their careers, they also expect that company to provide a variety of experiences to support their development. Some indicated they would prefer to be rotated through roles and assignments as frequently as every six months. All three companies in the case study understood this and had active programs to allow for frequent rotation. While there could be challenges in implementing such rotation programs, they can benefit both the company and workers if properly managed. Younger professionals also expressed a desire for continuous feedback. The case studies confirmed this finding; one company designed a very aggressive process to provide such feedback.


The objective of this study was to identify attributes of workplace environment and culture that support recruitment and retention of early-career R&D technical professionals. R&D organizations are in competition for today's top talent; they must understand the workplace characteristics and professional development opportunities that early-career technical talent is looking for. Interestingly, our research debunked the accepted wisdom that millennials have unique needs or wants. Rather, we found that competitive compensation and benefits packages, flexible work hours and other policies that support work-life balance, robust career development programs, and meaningful work will attract and retain technical professionals of all generations and career stages. And professionals of all ages also leave employers for similar reasons--inadequate compensation, insufficient or undefined advancement opportunities, and poor management. All in all, R&D organizations can enhance recruitment and retention of critical early-career talent by addressing the needs of all employees: providing continuous feedback, motivating engagement, and ensuring transparency.

IRI Research Profile

Recruiting and Retaining Early-Career Technical Talent

Insights into the types of workplace and professional development that early-career technical talent is looking for will help give R&D organizations an edge in recruitment and retention efforts.

Goal: Determine the key elements of an organization's salary and benefit offerings, career development programs, and work-life balance that maximize mutual benefit for the employee and employer and enhances retention of top early-career talent.

Co-Chairs: Mareie Zaharee (The MITRE Corporation), Stewart K. Mehlman (SKM Direction, LLC)

For more information, contact Tristan Lipkie (Tristan_ or Susan K. Neylon (

The Case Studies

The largest firm studied was a Europe-based multinational energy management firm. The case study focused on a location in Latin America, based on feedback from a roundtable participant from one of the company's other North American locations. The research team was particularly impressed with the company's management approach and with its training programs for early-career talent, which were tailored and relevant, enabling new workers to quickly become significant contributors to the firm's mission. The firm had also created excellent work processes, worked to foster a true teamwork atmosphere, and had programs in place to ensure work-life balance for employees.

The second firm was a medium-sized industrial materials company headquartered in the US Rust Belt. We selected this firm because of its success with its rotation plan for early career talent. The management had been particularly thoughtful in designing an overall plan that could be tailored to individual needs and strengths.

The smallest firm was a nine-year-old chemical industry startup in California that had just 50 employees. This firm was selected because, at the time of the study, it had never hadan employee leave for another employer. The company's ability to retain 100 percent of its early-career talent despite a number of challenges, including some layoffs, impressed the team. The success was driven by a program of intensive feedback to employees and frequent (as often as weekly) training opportunities. The leadership of the firm is particularly impressive, and since it is small, employees interact with leadership frequently, contributing to transparency and a sense of the meaningfulness of the work.

Marcie Zaharee is an ideation and innovation manager at the MITRE Corporation responsible for overall process, infrastructure, and information management for MITRE's innovation program. She has 25 years of experience in academia, government, and industry in various domains, including acquisition security, business management, innovation management, intelligence analysis, knowledge management, and project management. She is a co-chair of MITRE's Multigenerational Council, helping to create a culture of integration that enables the unique needs, values, and strengths of MITRE's multigenerational workforce to contribute to the company's success as an employer and business partner. She teaches a Management and Leadership Certificate program at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts. She holds a BS in business management, an MS in business education, and a PhD in education,

Tristan Lipkie is an early career technical professional and millennial. He is a senior scientist at Cargill, where he has worked for four years since being recruited after completing an internship. He is co-chair of the Cargil Young Professionals Network, whose mission is to promote the engagement, development, and retention of young professionals. His education includes a BA in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a PhD in food science from Purdue University.

Stewart K. Mehlman provides technology and intellectual property management consulting to select clients. He recently served on the Knowledge Leadership Team of the Innovation Research Interchange (IRI) and was chair of IRI's Emeriti Activity Group. Prior to forming SKM Direction, he had a diverse 35-year career with Praxair. He is a member of the Licensing Executives Society and the Association of Iron and Steel Technology. He holds a BS in materials science and engineering and an MS in metallurgy from MIT.

Susan K. Neylon has 30 years of experience in business/technology development. In her role as founder and president of ITECS Consulting, she has helped clients secure government grants totaling approximately $400 million, establish partnerships, buy and sell technology, and optimize innovation efforts. Prior to forming ITECS, she was vice president of technology at ECC and at Owens Corning; there, she managed a budget of more than $140 million and created and led organizations in North America, Europe, and China, supporting businesses that ranged in size from $33 million to over $5 billion,

DOI: 10.1080/08956308.2018.1495966

Published by Taylor & Francis. All rights reserved.


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TABLE 1. How were you recruited to your current role?
(% of respondents)

                                 Age Group

                       22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

Job posting             16      30      36     36
Networking contact      19      18      32     34
Other                   16      22      15     17
Career fair             23      17      13      7
Internship              25       8       2      5
University professor     1       5       2      1

TABLE 2. What keeps you at your current organization?
(% of respondents)

                                         Age Group

                                22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

Work-life balance                62      71      64     52
Salary and benefits              58      51      51     59
Professional development         52      40      41     27
Relationship with colleagues     37      36      39     35
Work has purpose                 37      33      35     33
Advancement opportunities        26      36      42     20
Relationship with supervisor     28      16      22     11
Organization's ethos             16       9      15      8
Physical work environment        17       7       6     12
Attitude of management           15       9      11      7
Other (please specify)           10      11      14     14

* Respondents were asked to indicate top three reasons.

TABLE 3. If you have left a job since graduating, why did you do so?
(% of respondents who indicated leaving a job)

                                        Age Group

                               22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

Salary and benefits             13      19      20     14
Lack of advancement             13      16      17     17
Other (please specify)          24      10       8      9
Lack of professional            17      12      11     11
development opportunities
Attitude/behavior of             9      14      11     15
Location                        11       8       8      9
Work-life balance                0       8      11     11
Organization's ethos            11       3       6      6
Relationship with supervisor     2       4       5      5
Physical work environment        0       4       2      3
Attitude/behavior of             0       2       4      1

* Respondents were asked to indicate top three reasons.

TABLE 4. How many companies do you anticipate you will have
worked for by the time you have retired? (% of respondents)

                   Age Group

         22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

1 to 3    62      59      53     65
4 to 6    30      36      34     22
7+         7       4      13     12

TABLE 5. What work-life balance policies do you expect
from an organization? (% of respondents)

                                             Age Croup

                                    22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

Flex hours                           91      85      85     83

Remote working                       60      64      64     66

At least three weeks of vacation     59      63      66     40
from the start of employment

Paid family leave                    52      59      61     40

Option to take unpaid                27      33      30     30
leave or sabbatical

Summer Fridays (early release on     35      32      22     24
Fridays in the summer)

Unlimited vacation                   12      14      14      8

Other (please specify)                2       5       5      5

* Respondents were asked to indicate top three.

TABLE 6. What perks would attract you to an
organization? (% of respondents)

                                        Age Group

                              22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

Matching employee 401k         84      82      83     86

Quality of healthcare plan     56      63      59     76

Student loan repayment         43      41      23     15

Social events                  41      26      24      9
(happy hours, outings)

Fitness center on site         38      40      42     33

Snacks/meals provided          30      28      25     14

Clubs/social                   27      19      14      9
organizations/sports teams

Wellness programs              22      17      10     15

Volunteer opportunities        17      17      10      5

Time off for volunteering      17      20      14     16

On-site childcare              16      26      46     18

Cellphone stipend               7      19      11     11

Other (please specify)          6       9      13      7

* Respondents were asked to indicate top three.

TABLE 7. What things do you think are essential to a
professional development plan? (% of respondents)

                                         Age Group

                                22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

Mentoring                        70      59      53     46

Specific path to advancement,    52      64      57     51

Rotational opportunities         57      56      47     43
within R&D

Specific technical training      57      42      47     43

Opportunities for continuous     48      45      47     34

Rotational opportunities         41      32      43     45
beyond R&D

Specific leadership training     20      35      39     35

Other (please specify)            2       6       6      5

* Respondents were asked to indicate top three.

TABLE 8. What is your ideal length of time to
be assigned to a project? (% of respondents)

                               Age Group

                     22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

<1 month               1       0       1      3
2-6 months            33      20      14      4
6-12 months           43      38      33     32
13-18 months          15      30      32     32
19 months-3 years      4      10      17     22
>3 years               1       0       1      5

TABLE 9. What is your ideal length of time to stay
in a particular role? (% of respondents)

                               Age Group

                     22-25   26-30   31-35   36+

<1 month               1       2       1      1
2-6 months            40      15       6      1
6-12 months           27      20      20     11
13-18 months          20      43      40     24
19 months-3 years      5      15      29     49
>3 years               5       2       4     13

FIGURE 1. An example rotational plan

Rotational Engineering Training

* Provide structured value-added training

* Understand technology as it relates to

* Create engineering flexibility

* Learn end-to-end product development

* Match employee skill & talent to opportunities

* Develop a project-oriented culture

Areas of Focus

* Engineering design

* Engineering process

* Finite element analysis

* Prototype lab

* Manufacturing process

* Advanced processing

* Mechanical testing

* Virtual processing

* Specialized applications
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Title Annotation:IRI RESEARCH
Author:Zaharee, Mareie; Lipkie, Tristan; Mehlman, Stewart K.; Neylon, Susan K.
Publication:Research-Technology Management
Date:Sep 1, 2018
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