Who's next?

to attract and retain young project talent, organizations must learn what makes the next generation tick






Members of the youngest generation in the workforce don't seem to play by the rules. When a boss says, “Jump,” they don't ask, “How high?” Instead, they ask, “Why?”

Most millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997, are interested in more than just taking orders and earning paychecks and promotions. According to the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 60 percent of global respondents cited “a sense of purpose” as part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer. And they want organizations to place more emphasis on employee well-being, growth and development.

While some may dismiss these ideals as the folly of youth, millennials are becoming too numerous to ignore. In the U.S., millennials will become the largest generation in the workforce by the end of the year. Yet, 53 percent of the country's hiring managers say it's difficult to find and retain these young professionals. And as the global project talent market tightens, this shortage may begin to hurt business results.

According to Arras People's 2015 global Project Management Benchmark Report, 81 percent of project professionals say they would need to recruit more team members this year to meet increased demand. But one in five say they failed to fill all their open roles last year, suggesting supply is not keeping up with demand.

“It will likely be a challenge that impacts both the cost and risk of near-term projects,” says John Thorpe, managing director of Arras People, a project management recruitment and career consulting company in London, England. “As demand for project managers increases, the cost of labor will go up. And if organizations can't fill these roles, their ability to deliver projects successfully will go down. That combination of skill shortage and premium pricing will be a double whammy.”


“As demand for project managers increases, the cost of labor will go up. And if organizations can't fill these roles, their ability to deliver projects successfully will go down.”

—John Thorpe, Arras People, London, England

To mitigate this risk, many organizations are ramping up recruiting and training efforts, bringing in young college grads and providing them with a combination of training, coaching and on-the-job experience. The first challenge is just getting them in the door, says Chris Jones, director of learning and development for BAM Construct UK, a construction, building design, facilities management and property development company in Hemel Hempstead, England.

“The first step is to attract them to construction and educate them about the career opportunities that are available,” he says. Fortunately, once they see the work they could be doing, “they are attracted to construction, and many aspire to become project managers.”

BAM helps new recruits understand their career opportunities by outlining a carefully designed development path that will move them toward project leadership. The company uses classroom training and on-the-job experience to build young team members’ skills and help them develop expertise over a broad range of areas like engineering, planning and finance. This allows BAM to build a deep and diverse project management bench, Mr. Jones says.

The company's development program for project managers has been so successful that other companies often try to poach its best people. “But we can't just throw up our hands and give up,” Mr. Jones says. “We need to continue to invest in them, and help them understand the opportunities they have with our company so they stay with us.”


One way BAM is cultivating a sense of loyalty among younger team members is by offering work-study programs, so people can start with the company while they're still in college. This has now evolved into a project management apprenticeship program. Apprentices start working at the company right out of high school while also studying part-time at a university for up to five years to earn a degree in civil engineering, quantity surveying or planning. BAM has relationships with a handful of universities near its regional offices where apprentices can enroll, depending on course availability.

“They start in a junior role and accumulate five or six years of experience while pursuing an academic certification,” Mr. Jones says.

While these students may not move into project management roles for several years, they follow the same training and career path as college graduates and have the same opportunities as their skill sets develop.

“We find that the ones who are with us from the beginning often progress more quickly than those who join straight from university because they get so much on-the-job experience while studying,” Mr. Jones says.


“We need to continue to invest in [project managers], and help them understand the opportunities they have with our company so they stay with us.”

—Chris Jones, BAM Construct UK, Hemel Hempstead, England


The promise of exciting projects and world travel is another big pull for young professionals, says Edwin Bolwerk, managing director at Vanderlande Industries, a global provider of automated material handling systems in Veghel, the Netherlands.

Mr. Bolwerk leverages small-scale global initiatives to give young project managers experience in low-risk situations, while still keeping them engaged. “We might put them in charge of building a small carousel in Tunisia, where they can be in charge of everything,” Mr. Bolwerk says. “It's better to have them manage a whole project from A to Z.”


The company also provides personalized development opportunities that keep young project managers moving forward. Vanderlande has seven project management levels, each of which has an associated title, salary and required training and capabilities. Employees receive twice-yearly reviews from their managers to determine whether they are ready to move to the next level and what training and experience they may need to close skill gaps.


The promise of exciting projects and world travel is another big pull for young professionals.

—Edwin Bolwerk, Vanderlande Industries, Veghel, the Netherlands

These reviews give employees and managers a chance to identify weaknesses, like an inability to deal with conflict or poor time management skills, so they can address them early on, Mr. Bolwerk says. “We always want to challenge them and help them move forward.”

The combination of development opportunities, world travel and the chance to take on leadership roles early in their career has helped Vanderlande keep project manager turnover low.

“Project managers are highly regarded in our company, and very few of our people go elsewhere,” Mr. Bolwerk says. “If projects are a core part of your business, then project managers have to be socially recognized as leaders in the company. It's got to be a core value of the company.”


The Kuwait National Petroleum Co. works to cultivate a project management culture from the top down, starting with the project management office (PMO), says Wael Aljasem, PMP, team leader of project management at the Ahmadi, Kuwait-based company. “Where we work in Kuwait, project management experience is low in maturity,” Mr. Aljasem says, “though in the last three years people have become more familiar with the concept.”

The organization's PMO, along with the project directorate, demonstrates the value of the profession by encouraging young employees to pursue project management career paths and providing formal training and on-the-job mentoring to help them develop core skills, especially around risk management, quality management and stakeholder management. “It's not difficult to sell the idea once they understand the value of good project management practices,” he says. “In the next five to 10 years, we will reach a much higher level of maturity as the younger generation gets the training and experience they need to succeed.”

Frederic Casagrande, PMP, faces a similar challenge in bolstering his company's project management corporate culture. Mr. Casagrande is director of the corporate PMO for Transguard Group, a business process outsourcing, security services and facilities management provider in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. His PMO has been actively promoting the value of project management across the organization, from the executive team down to new recruits. The PMO sends executives a monthly report highlighting project successes and project management's impact on the bottom line, and it contributes to Transguard's regular internal corporate newsletter. The company is also in the process of projectizing the whole organization. All these efforts are paying off.

“Our stakeholders recognize that good project management brings so much value to the business,” he says. And this is driving changes in the way the company recruits and trains new staff.

“Transguard has a large portfolio of projects in the pipeline. If we want to succeed, we need to either hire an army of project managers, or build them ourselves,” Mr. Casagrande says.

Since there aren't a lot of seasoned project managers in the marketplace, Transguard has turned its gaze inward. In the past year, the PMO has rolled out a project management training program open to anyone in the organization, even if they're not on a project management career path. The goal is to foster a project management culture enabling everyone to speak the same language around project delivery, Mr. Casagrande says.

So far, the program has been a huge hit. The training course is in such demand that the PMO has had to roll out extra sessions.

“It has been a clear win for the business,” he says. Since implementing the project management training and process, Transguard has seen significant reductions in the time required to deliver projects, which translates to increased savings and flexibility. For example, it used to take 12 weeks for the company to set up a “work camp” facility to provide employees with room and board during long-term projects. Now it takes less than eight, thanks to streamlined planning and more efficient use of resources.

Because of these tangible results, Transguard's leadership is firmly behind the PMO's development of a strong project management culture. That, in turn, allows the organization to attract and retain promising practitioner talent. “The quality of candidates and résumés we receive for every open position clearly shows a lot of interest in what we are doing,” says Mr. Casagrande. “The 12-month rolling churn rate in Transguard's project management discipline is significantly lower than for the rest of the company.” PM


“If we want to succeed, we need to either hire an army of project managers, or build them ourselves.”

—Frederic Casagrande, PMP, Transguard Group, Dubai, United Arab Emirates


“It's not difficult to sell the idea [of developing core skills] once [young employees] understand the value of good project management practices. In the next five to 10 years, we will reach a much higher level of maturity as the younger generation gets the training and experience they need to succeed.”

—Wael Aljasem, PMP, Kuwait National Petroleum Co., Ahmadi, Kuwait




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