Local Business

McHenry County companies look for opportunities to keep Millennials

CRYSTAL LAKE – When searching for a job after college, Kyle Swenson didn’t want location to determine where he would begin his career, a decision he admits not many of his friends would make.

Swenson, 26, settled on Eisenmann Corp., a global company that provides environmentally friendly engineering services with U.S. headquarters in Crystal Lake, for the opportunities and experience the company has been known to provide younger, millennial-aged workers in engineering.

“I took this for the job, not for Crystal Lake,” Swenson said. “I feel like my situation is not the norm. I think a lot of people our age pick based off location. They pick where they want to live and then worry about work after that.”

Many stories in media generally describe young workers from the millennial generation as urban dwellers who prefer renting to owning and lively neighborhoods within walking distance to nightlife, although recent U.S. Census data suggests the trend may be changing as the generation starts to age.

For some companies that employ a large segment of millennials in McHenry County, they’ve found that a clearly marked career path, engagement and perks providing the work-life balance many millennial workers are known to desire all can draw them to suburban locations and keep them there.

Local companies should take the time to educate younger workers about similar benefits and growth opportunities, as many currently struggle to recruit and retain younger millennial workers at a time when other employees are aging and retiring, said Barbara Billimack, lead adviser for the McHenry County Workforce Network Youth Program.

The countywide workforce agency detailed in its annual labor report last fall a 2.3 decline in the number of people participating in the local labor force, a drop mostly tied to retirements, workforce officials said.

“Companies are struggling to recruit and retain younger workers,” Billimack said. “In general, companies in McHenry County do not pay their workers as much as companies closer to the city. Oftentimes, younger workers struggle with paying for their expenses, including housing, on their salary.”

At Eisenmann, the company articulates the value its entry level engineering jobs can provide, Human Resource Manager Jeff Fischer said. Eisenmann also engages younger workers, giving them projects to tackle from the onset while working alongside veteran engineers, he said.

“What we do in recruiting is our value proposition,” Fischer said. “They get to work on some of the most complex technologies for manufacturing. They work with big customers that everybody has heard about. They really find meaning in their work. They have a lot of responsibility, and they are contributing to these large capital projects.”

From Crystal Lake, Eisenmann, which has international headquarters in Germany, provides engineering, project and sales services for companies primarily in the automotive and chemical processing industries. About 28 percent of its workforce in Crystal Lake fall within the millennial generation.

Aside from opportunity and engagement, the company grants flexible work hours, allowing workers to manage their own schedules around their needs. Unlike Swenson, who lives in Crystal Lake, project manager Joe Schlesinger, 26, said the flex hours allow him to better manage his commute from his apartment in Chicago.

“The flex hours make it convenient,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons other than just the work, but ... being younger, we want to get good experience.”

Crystal Lake-based engineering services firm Baxter and Woodman accommodates worker’s schedule through shortened work weeks, amenable hours and a collegial culture – company features that resonate with millennials’ work-life balance and work styles, said Nicole Runions, who works in the firm’s human resource division.

Employing 200 people, Baxter and Woodman’s workforce roughly is split between millennial-aged workers and older workers from the Baby Boomer generation, Runions said.

When millennials are hired, they can choose to work from home or split time between regional offices in Crystal Lake, Chicago and Milwaukee. All staff can do a four-and-a-half day work week, allowing them to start their Friday shift at 7:30 a.m. and end it at 12:30 p.m.

Mondays through Thursdays, workers generally are on the clock from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The company hosts dinner dances, summer picnics and organizes a softball team to keep the atmosphere loose for employees. Baxter and Woodman also wants to engage their younger workers, encouraging them to find mentors within the company, Runions said.

“It’s really important to keep them engaged in their careers, so they can see where they can go. We have mentors who have been here for 20, 30 years and are great mentors for the younger generation,” she said. “Everybody works together, ask questions of each other and gives feedback.”

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