Foosball and flexibility: 1Berkshire seminar explores ways companies can attract, keep millennials

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Photo Gallery | 1Berkshire seminar on attracting millennials to the workforce

Video | 1Berkshire CEO Jonathan Butler on the importance of attracting millennials to the Berkshires

PITTSFIELD — Two Berkshire businesses cook food on grills to relate to their younger employees. Another firm has ping pong and foosball tables.

Unorthodox? Definitely. But these examples were cited by the executives of three local companies as ways to attract and retain employees of the millennial generation to the Berkshires.

Strategies, methods and ideas regarding this topic were discussed Wednesday as 1Berkshire hosted a seminar titled "Our Next B.I.G. idea: Understanding the Future of Work and How to Attract and Retain Millennials" at the Colonial Theatre.

The Berkshire Initiative for Growth (B.I.G.), a 1Berkshire subsidiary, held the event in conjunction with Live in the Grey, a New York City-based firm with expertise on workplace cultures. A total of 130 participants pre-registered for Wednesday's event, according to 1Berkshire. There were also several walk-ins.

B.I.G. was formed with 30 shareholders two years ago to address Berkshire population loss, particularly among people in the 22-to-40 age group, said 1Berkshire COO Jonathan Butler.

"In 2015, millennials passed baby boomers as the largest generation in the country," Butler said.

B.I.G. coalition member John Bissell said the Berkshires have always done an exceptional job attracting visitors to the area, but now need to devote those same areas to attracting employees. Wednesday's event was the beginning of those efforts, he added,

"I'd like to look back at this day in five years and say this was the day when we changed things," said Bissell, who is also the president and CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union.

"Both recruiting and retaining young people is one our biggest challenges," Bissell said, "but it's also a tremendous opportunity.

"We believe at B.I.G. that this decline is totally reversible," he added.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center identified "adult millennials" as being between the ages of 18 and 33, meaning they were born between 1981 and 1996. The youngest millennials are "still in their teens" with "no chronological end point set for them yet," according to Pew. Other studies list the range for millennials from as young as 12 and as old as 40.

Also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation, millennials are expected to make up 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025, according to Live in the Grey CEO Brad Lande.

"We are at the epicenter of an amazing transformation," Lande said on Wednesday.

Lande said millennials "crave" a work-life balance that differs from the goals of previous generations. That workplace, as defined by Live in the Grey, includes work that leaves employees "connected, impactful and fulfilled," he said.

"Seventy-two percent of millennials rate a job where they can make a difference as a key to their future happiness," Lande said.

He said 71 percent of millennials want their co-workers to be like a "second family."

"A lot of jobs don't do this," Lande said.

Three Berkshire executives: Patricia Begrowicz of Onyx Specialty Papers, Nate Winstanley of Winstanley Associates and Wayne Marzotto of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, participated in a panel discussion with Live in the Grey's Chief Experience Officer Kate Bednarski regarding methods that they use to retain and attract millennials.

All three said their companies have a significant number of young employees. Begrowicz said the majority of Onyx's millennials are blue collar employees.

"One thing we've seen at General Dynamics is that some millennials want to be valued as individuals," Marzotto said. "We try and embrace that."

Winstanley and Begrowicz said their firms have grills, while Marzotto said General Dynamics used ping pong and foosball tables to help keep its younger employees engaged. General Dynamics also has a flexible work schedule that requires employees to work nine-hour days so they can have every other Friday off.

Onyx has a mentorship program, Begrowicz said, and provides tickets for employees to local theaters and Red Sox and Bruins games.

The four sets of the company's Red Sox tickets are given out in "pairs" Begrowicz said so that employees can talk with each other during the games.

In answer to a question from the audience, Marzotto said General Dynamics recruits mostly in the Northeast because "it's tough to bring people to the Berkshires."

He said General Dynamics also has an attrition rate in Pittsfield.

"We're fighting that," he said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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