Millennials make up the largest cohort of the workforce, at about 37 per cent of Canadian employees. For information technology consulting company Capgemini, however, its millennial workforce is almost double that percentage.

“We have a fairly significant population,” says chief executive officer Sanjay Tugnait, citing the 61 per cent of the company’s 190,000 employees around the world who are younger than 34. Given the numbers, the company has concluded its future relies on the millennial generation and has gone to some lengths to attract and retain its younger employees.

Capgemini offers flexible hours, reduced workweeks, travel opportunities and increased vacation time as ways to attract millennials. But one thing that sets the company apart is its millennial innovation council.

Read: Millennials are the biggest generation in the workforce

The purpose of the council, which is part of Capgemini’s employee resource group program, is to create opportunities for millennials to innovate, collaborate and lead within the organization. “Our people are our assets. This is a very important workforce to be able to manage, and we wanted to have a very distinct program,” says Tugnait.

“A lot of our customers are millennials. We have to make sure we have the workforce that connects with our customers.”

An amped-up social committee

In many ways, the millennial innovation council is an amped-up social committee that offers mentoring, networking and learning opportunities.

The most recent millennial innovation council chapter to launch was the Toronto-area group in the fall of 2016. “We were really surprised that there wasn’t a chapter here. We have a vibrant startup team,” says Stanley Rao, a senior consultant at Capgemini and one of the founders of the Toronto-area chapter. “We had a lot of new hires and a lot of [young] employees but we weren’t talking to each other about innovation.”

Read: 90% of employers not integrating millennials into the workplace: survey

To rectify that, Rao and a colleague approached the senior management team for support. They then approached the leaders of the North America millennial innovation council and, within a few weeks of starting the process, formed the chapter. “The council’s purpose is to create a culture of idea sharing and have fun at the same time,” says Rao.

“There’s lots of travel and virtual relationships [in everyday work], so this allows for more face time. We get to meet new people and work with others.”

Focus on learning

The Toronto-area millennial innovation council is still in its infancy, consisting of a core group of six people (four founding members and two executive sponsors) who do the planning. It has already organized several events, including a Pokémon Go activity. Besides capturing Pokémon along Toronto’s harbour front, participants also gained a better understanding of the technology involved in the game.

“All our events are centred around an element of learning,” says Rao.

The council has also organized a hackathon that brought together students from local schools and Capgemini employees to solve a technology problem for charity.

Read: Pokémon Go: Is game a disruption or a wellness tool for employers?

Tugnait says that while he previously wouldn’t have imagined the company organizing a Pokémon game or a hackathon, the council is a key way of keeping up with business trends. “Time is money for us, but we are investing in this. [The council] is a very important initiative to us,” he says. “We look at new ideas coming from them all the time, be it problem solving or an initiative they want to take on.”

A seat at the table

The council is a combined effort between employees and the human resources team at Capgemini, something consultant Janet Salopek says is a key driver of the success of any program aimed at engaging millennials.

“Millennials want to have input and to shape what work will look like. They want to contribute, and we need to work hard to understand them and accept them on their terms,” says Salopek, a partner at Salopek & Associates Ltd., a Calgary-based human resources consulting firm.

“We coach employers to work with [millennials], don’t tell it to them.”

Read: International placements a key attraction for millennial workers

Other hallmarks of the millennial generation include a desire to collaborate and work in less formal environments, says Todd Mathers, a partner at Aon Hewitt in Toronto.

Mathers says the attitude Capgemini has taken toward its younger workers is one other employers should embrace. “[Millennials] have an opportunity to innovate and an opportunity to collaborate. [The company is] engaging them and recognizes that this generational cohort comes to the workplace with different values than other generations,” he says.

“[Employers] need to make adjustments if they want to attract and get them to stay there. If they don’t take action to engage them, it’s very expensive because you will need to keep hiring them.”

Read: How to support Generation Z employees

Those involved in the millennial council say the experience has been rewarding. “I really feel that it puts my spare time to good use and I’m learning stuff that I never knew about,” says Rao. “I work with smart co-workers, and the access that it gives me to new people is really rewarding and it pushes me toward thinking about new technology trends.”

The Canadian arm of Capgemini has 371 full-time employees, the majority of whom are in the Toronto area. The events the council has organized so far have drawn about a quarter of the workforce, and the hope is to expand its reach and grab the attention of more employees.

Tugnait says the council has changed how human resources and senior leaders connect with employees. Working with millennials to create the program, he notes, has allowed the company’s human resources staff to learn more about its younger workers and has helped with managing the talent pool. “It’s helping us understand and shape their careers,” says Tugnait.

Read: Entitled or industrious? What millennial workers are really like

For Rao, the mentoring opportunities have been particularly helpful. They include both reverse mentoring, which pairs more experienced employees with younger staff who talk to them about topics such as technology, social media and the way millennials work, as well as mentorship between members of the company’s leadership team and the council. “I really appreciate that we get a lot of mentoring,” says Rao. “This really reinforced [the company’s] dedication to the millennial workforce.”

April Scott-Clarke is a freelance writer based in Ottawa.

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Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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