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Berkshire Employers Focus In On Millennials

Brad Lande, CEO of Live in the Grey, speaks to Berkshire employers at the Colonial Theatre.
Jim Levulis
Brad Lande, CEO of Live in the Grey, speaks to Berkshire employers at the Colonial Theatre.

Like in many parts of the Northeast, businesses in the Berkshires are trying to reverse the trend of millennials leaving the region. A recent conference asked employers to take a fresh look at how they view the generation.Berkshire County’s economic development agency, 1Berkshire, convened the seminar as a way to address what COO Jonathan Butler says is one of the region’s greatest challenges, population loss — specifically among younger people.

“That decline in 22 to 42 demographic overlaps very directly with America’s newest largest generation, the millennials,” Butler said. “In 2015 millennials surpassed the Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the country. Concurrent with that, millennials also surpassed Generation X as the largest share of the American labor force.”

For the past two years, 30 stakeholders involved in the Berkshire Initiative for Growth have worked to push back against that challenge. Following surveys, the group identified improved transportation, technology infrastructure and social activity as well as creating a positive narrative about the region as areas of focus. Since then an online virtual recruitment packet for employers has been created and the ride-sharing service Uber was successfully drawn to the area. The seminar featured Brad Lande, CEO of Live in the Grey. The New York City-based firm focuses on helping companies create holistic and successful work environments.

“Today the workforce, and I say ‘workforce’ because it includes millennials, but it is not only them, they crave a work-life blend,” Lande said. “Or the grey, as we call it.”

Citing statistics, Lande says millennials want to feel connected and fulfilled in their job while being able to recognize their impact on the business and community they live in. He says younger people also want their co-workers to be their second family. One of the area’s largest employers of millennials is General Dynamics Mission Systems, which creates and maintains products for the armed forces. Deputy Director of Engineering Wayne Marzotto says 530 of roughly 1,200 employees at the Pittsfield site fall into the age range.

“We’re seeing an attrition rate that is kind of unprecedented in our business,” Marzotto said. “Normally we’ve seen attrition rates around two to three percent. We’re seeing attrition rates that range around eight percent. That’s one of the challenges, to not only attract millennials, but actually to retain those type of folks.”

Marzotto says the cost of losing and replacing an employee is about $60,000. He says General Dynamics has a college ambassador program to recruit from places like Union, RIT and RPI and is creating a formal mentorship program with social and professional aspects. The company also allows flexible work hours along with nine-hour days and every other Friday off. To the point about millennials wanting to recognize their impact, owner and president of Onyx Specialty Papers Pat Begrowicz says it’s important to understand that younger workers both white and blue collar want to feel the impact of their work.

“Eighty percent of the cars around the world that have automatic transmissions have paper made in this little mill in [Lee] Massachusetts,” Begrowicz said. “That’s a message that’s very important for our folks.”

Keeping in mind that it’s a paper mill, Begrowicz says yoga is held on site twice a week, every employee is offered a Fitbit to improve their health and workers are each given pairs of tickets to sports games to increase social connection.

According to American Community Survey data from 2014, Berkshire County has roughly 28,300 people between 20 and 39 representing 22 percent of its population. The U.S. average is 27 percent. The population total in that age group dropped by about 650 from 2010 in Berkshire County.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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