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Julia Dixon wrote the report after two years worth of work with some 40 individuals researching, discussing, and developing programs.

1Berkshire Releases Report on Attracting, Retaining Millennials

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler says during the two years the BIG was ongoing, his organization made a conscious effort to keep the millennial generation in mind when launching programs. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There is a hole in the county's demographics. But there is also a clear path to fill it.
 
Studies, particularly one performed by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in 2014, have outlined a significant population loss in the coming years, and a decline that is specifically defined among the 20- to 40-year-old age bracket.
 
That age group tends to move for college and stay away to start their careers and families. The county continues to age and a lack of millennials carries an array of economic problems for the county. To fill that gap, BRPC estimated a need for 800 people in that age bracket needs to move into the county each year to curb the trend.
 
In 2014, 1Berkshire put together the Berkshire Initiative for Growth. It brought together a range of people from various sectors and ages to craft a game plan to halt the population decline.
 
"We've lost around 30,000 resident over about two generations. We've all see the presentations. We've heard the news. We know the efforts to combat that are in place. So we aren't going to take a deep dive into that data. We're going to focus on the work of the task force, the findings of the task force, the recommendations of the task force," said 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler on Friday, when that report was revealed and passed on to those in the private and public sector to start implementing.
 
The report calls for employers to rethink a lot of how they operate.
 
"Employers themselves have to think more about how they are doing in-house training for their staff. Are they providing opportunities for the millennial cohort? Are they providing opportunities to advance their skill sets?" Butler said.
 
Butler said millennials want to have jobs that motivate them and have upward mobility. And employers need to rethink the way they recruit, the report reads. 
 
"If you hire somebody from Boston or New York the likelihood of retaining them is much lower than if you hire someone from Maine, the Great Lakes Region, Upstate New York, or a more rural place. Many folks that are hired from more rural regions that come to the Berkshires say, wow, there is a lot here," Butler said.
 
"The folks we hire from Boston and New York, many come to love the Berkshires, but many instead look at the contrast between there and here."
 
And while the cost of living in the region is low, Butler said companies need to keep in mind the fixed costs in an individual's budget. He used student debt as an example.
 
"The cost of living in the Berkshires is lower than in Boston. And our average wages are lower than Boston. The average student debt doesn't change. That is a finite number. It is going to affect an individual's ability to have disposable income," Butler said. 
 
Further, he is calling for more coordination when it comes to posting jobs. Butler said there are multiple places companies post their jobs but there is not one easy way for people outside of the county, who may not know where to find the posting, to apply.
 
General Dynamics is one of those companies who has had success in recruiting and retaining the millennial generation. Vice President and General Manager, Maritime & Strategic Systems Carlo Zaffanella said his company has been able to shift in a number of ways to keep up with the growth.
 
"You have to think about what matters to them. We have extremely flexible arrangements here. You can really work based on what your boss can accommodate with the project you are working on, very flexible. We have every other Friday off. And believe it or not, being a defense contractor, we are pretty good at letting people work from home," Zaffanella said.
 
Zaffanella said half of the nearly 1,500 workers there are under the age of 40, and a quarter of the employees are under the age of 30. To recruit and retain those workers, General Dynamics focuses on providing a job they are motivated to do. Those engineers could all move elsewhere but choose to stay with the company, he said.
 
"They've got to be motivated by what they do," he said.
 
General Dynamics has shifted its recruitment to a more regional model. Zaffanella said attempts to recruit from places like California have not worked. He likes to recruit within a two- to three-hour drive.
 
"We put a lot of time and energy into hiring local people," he said.
 
The company has gone through a process to upgrade the old World War II building to be more comfortable because the environment matters to the workers. They mostly moved into the former SABIC building on Plastics Avenue, which provides a much more campus-like feel than other office spaces.
 
Essentially, the goal is to "marry" a millennial's quality of life with his or her professional life.
 
"We're talking about things that round out a young person's quality of life, and marry it with the professional life -- remote working, modernized dressed code, modernized institutional policy, a more comfortable work environment," said Julia Dixon, who authored the report.
 
One way to mesh the two is through a comfortable workplace culture. That isn't just nice buildings, tables, and chairs, that is letting the workers have opportunities to be involved in the decision-making process and ways to get involved.
 
Dixon called for incentive training programs to allow workers to move up, apprenticeships, and chances for the workers to volunteer. The workplace should be encouraging, she said.
 

The report is released at General Dynamics on Friday morning to the media, business, cultural, and political leaders.

Outside of the workplace, the Berkshires has some of the right amenities to keep the millennial generation here. According to a survey of 2,870 people in that age bracket -- 1/3 of whom lived here and moved and the rest living here now -- 80 percent said they enjoy living here.

A total of 75 percent of the young professionals rated the Berkshires as a good place to live, citing the natural beauty, outdoor creation, arts and culture, and food.

However, 42 percent of those people had moved away at some point and 55 percent believe they might leave.
 
"We found a significant difference between the way natives and non-natives perceive this region. Non-natives find they are very satisfied with the cultural offerings and natives, less so," Dixon added.
 
Dixon suggests that shows that it isn't a lack of things to do, but a lack of knowledge about the events that are happening.
 
"The solution isn't improving nightlife, it is in communicating the many activities and events that are already available," she said.
 
The perception versus reality aspect of the county did play a heavy role in the report. BIG Chairman John Bissell said the process dissolved three myths about the county. He said there is a myth that there are no jobs here, but Bissell said every employer he talks to is hiring. There is a myth that young people don't want to live here, but surveys have refuted that claim, too. And that curbing the population trends is too big of an issue to tackle, which he said is "an excuse for inaction."
 
"The work on the report is concluding, but the exciting and challenging work of acting on the recommendation is just starting," Bissell said.
 
Overall, Butler wants the narrative to change. He feels a negativity has been passed on over the years about the county, leading many to miss the positive changes that have been made in recent years. 
 
"We've let a narrative of previous generations become the narrative of our future," Butler said.
 
He wants the narrative to be one of optimism and pride, something that tells the young adults that this is a place to raise a family.
 
But the Berkshires do lack some important attractions. Dixon said 96 percent of county workers rely on personal vehicles to get to and from work. Meanwhile, 88 percent of those surveyed said they would use Uber.
 
"We are living at a time when many young adults are used to the easily accessible, public and crowdsource transportation options that urban centers provide," Dixon said.
 
Further, many are reporting that while there are jobs, those jobs aren't in their field. Dixon, however, said there are some 1,800 jobs available right now in the county.
 
"There are jobs but there is a misalignment between jobs that are available and the pathway to those jobs. And there is a missed opportunity for young people to advance their careers locally," Dixon said.
 
Meanwhile, Butler said housing rose up as an issue. He said many of the millennials are outpacing any other generation with home buying right now. But, there are often misconceptions about ownership that isn't conveyed to millennials, slowing that purchase rate down.
 
"If someone buys a house here they are more likely to stay. They're invested. So as employers that are hiring young professions, new recruits to the region regardless of age, it is important to make sure that if they are a candidate to be buying houses that we're providing people in the direction of understanding the value of homeownership," Butler said.
 
Butler is also calling for investments in downtowns, where more and more millennials want to live to be close to work, friends, restaurants, and more. The Berkshires can create the urban feel in its downtowns, while still maintaining the scenery and outdoor recreation that is a strength of the county.
 
1Berkshire not only authored the report but began implementing the strategies itself. The business agency organized entrepreneur workshops to encourage new, creative businesses. It creates events and programs to connect millennials and build social networks. It worked to bring Uber into the county. It has created welcome packets and launched award programs for workers under the age of 40. All of it aimed at building that cohort of 20- to 40-year-olds.
 
"We stopped doing anything unless we were thinking about the 20-40 age cohort. All of our programs, all of our events, all of our work that is done to move forward conversations about regional challenges and opportunities," Butler said.
 
The full report can be read here.

Tags: 1Berkshire,   millennials,   population,   

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