The Right and Wrong Way to Attract Young Workers to a “Boring” Company

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Bill Taylor is the author of Simply Brilliant and co-founder of Fast Company. He spends much of his time with senior executives from organizations in, less glamorous fields, such as community banks, electrical distributors, heartland manufacturers, and insurance companies.  These executives are rightly proud of what their organizations do, and they can typically get business experts excited about their plans for growth and change.

But as the author explains, they have one huge problem that literally keeps them up at night: Young people find their companies dull and don’t have much enthusiasm for a career in their field. The questions Taylor hears over and over are, “How can we compete with Facebook or Google for young engineers?” or “How can we attract digitally savvy marketers against Starbucks or Amazon?”

Their challenge, in other words, is to make their “boring” companies “cool” — to persuade 20-somethings to join an organization or work in a field that doesn’t exactly sizzle. It’s a worthwhile challenge, which is literally becoming a make-or-break problem. But there are right and wrong ways to address it. Two recent articles, both chronicling efforts by insurance executives to make their field more alluring to the young crowd, show the promise and pitfalls of changing an industry’s image. They can help executives in lots of traditional fields think about how to battle for talent.

Let’s start with the pitfalls. A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal notes, insurance companies have to make 500,000 new hires over the next few years, as waves of industry lifers retire.  Unfortunately, young people “just don’t want to work for insurance companies,” the Journal reports, which has led some companies to develop brash recruiting campaigns. One mid-size company, based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, built a recruiting video around a young actuary dressed as a zombie, to show that “we really like to have fun around here.”  At college recruiting events, the company “served huge mounds of freshly cooked bacon” and installed a Ferris wheel at headquarters to entertain newcomers. Meanwhile, one life insurance giant opened an office in New York City featuring...

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