To keep expanding Palm Beach County’s technology community, companies need more qualified employees to choose from, tech leaders said Wednesday.
PALM BEACH GARDENS For Palm Beach County to grow as a hub for technology companies, its talent pool needs to grow especially when it comes to younger workers.
That was the message from local leaders in the tech industry on Wednesday morning at the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce’s panel on millennials and their effects on the workforce.
According to Pew Research Center, millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996. They generally are considered “digital natives” who grew up with access to technology and came of age around the year 2000.
Representatives from locally based companies Carrier, DSS Inc., Florida Power & Light Co. and Levatas sat on a panel moderated by Palm Beach Tech CEO Joe Russo.
The biggest need, they said, is access to talent: The pool isn’t big enough, and there’s plenty of room to grow.
Nicole Ford, Carrier’s chief information security officer, said she has gone outside the area for some of her most recent recruiting efforts, even looking into Atlanta.
“When they get here, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know,’” she said, later adding that while she still is building her team, she has been able to hire 30 people in a “very, very short period of time.”
To do that, Ford has tapped into local universities to develop relationships, while also partnering with local middle and high schools to develop the next generation’s talent pool.
Christopher Kunney, chief of strategy and business development at DSS Inc., said it is key for companies to start “farming” those future employees now.
But, he and the others said, retaining millennials and even younger employees is a challenge.
“They will leave you,” FPL vice president of technology Michael Fowler said of millennials. “It is a new world of turnover.”
There are some things companies can do to raise their retention rate, including fostering a more collaborative culture, building a sense of purpose and adding a few amenities, the panelists said.
While Carrier has been building a digital hub in Atlanta, Ford has heard some out-of-the-box requests — including beer kegs and sleep pods.
“I’ve had to talk with management and say, ‘Hey, we need to have hammocks. That is a necessity. How do we do that?’” she said, laughing.
Levatas founder Chris Neilsen said there is something to the idea of having sleep pods onsite, asking the crowd if they would rather have employees be honest about their napping, or have them lie and sneak away for 45 minutes to sleep in their cars.
And while having ping pong tables and comfortable couches in an office is nice, it doesn’t help unless the overall culture shifts as well, Neilsen said.
“That’s not true, authentic culture,” he said. “Those are the artifacts of culture.”
With 85 percent of his employees being millennials, this is something Neilsen has considered as his company builds a new office in downtown West Palm Beach near Rosemary Square.
Both the amenities and the culture change can happen together, “but if that’s all you have, you’ve gone for the trend without the purpose,” Neilsen said.
For workplace culture to change, Kunney said, employers need to better understand millennials including that they are getting older, with many approaching 40.
“Millennials want to be heard, they want to be respected,” he said.
It’s also about what you can offer millennials that will allow them to find value in their work, the panelists said.
“They want to know they’re walking into an organization where they’re doing meaningful work,” Ford said.
Still, sometimes it comes down to money, with Neilsen suggesting companies pay “market rate or better.”
“Healthy things grow,” he said.