[Editor’s Note: we’re publishing today’s article to coincide with ISM’s 100th annual conference that is currently being held in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. Andrew Bartolini and I are in attendance with Andrew presenting this morning at 10:45. If you’re at the conference, we invite you to his presentation or just say hi when you see us.]

Much has been written about Millennials – the generation of students and workers that were born between 1980 and 1995 (full disclosure: I am one of them) — and most of it hasn’t been very favorable. According to the mainstream media (and ornery relatives), this generation has a reputation for being entitled, pampered, self-involved, and self-indulgent. They’re a group that is afraid of hard work and quick to leave one job for the next.

Like the “slackers” of Generation X before them, it is not clear how this generation caught such a bad rap. About the nicest thing people say/write about the Millennial generation (also called Generation Y) is that they are tech savvy. They are the mythical masters of technology who could turn on your computer and fix the clock on your VCR before their morning bottle. I’d like to think that the current labels placed on Milliennials are borne of a simplistic narrative spun by older, uncreative writers and thinkers.

As I see it, Millennials are a diverse bunch that count many collaborators, innovators, and entrepreneurs in their numbers. It is far from a perfect lot, but I see this generation as globally-minded, family-oriented, civically-engaged, results-driven change agents hungry to make a difference. And when it comes to procurement, they we are reporting for duty.

The Future of Procurement

Over a year ago, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and ThomasNet embarked on a mission to highlight and promote a cohort of rising stars in the procurement and supply management field that will someday lead the profession into the future. The project began after the teams, led by M.L. Peck, Senior Vice President for Programs and Product Development at ISM and Linda Rigano, Executive Director of Media Relations at ThomasNet, had a spark of inspiration. They met with practitioners at a trade event who shared that 30% of their workforce were Baby Boomers who would be retiring soon, and that they didn’t have a succession plan. On average, Millennials comprised less than 25% of their workforce, and little-to-nothing was being done to recruit and retain them to fill the impending staff shortages.

The reason? Many of the people that ISM and ThomasNet spoke with held traditionally negative stereotypes of Millennials who also believed that they would not be interested in a career in supply management. This was highly problematic for an industry experiencing persistent staff and talent constraints, which will likely increase as more Baby Boomers retire. Something had to be done to change the course. Thomas Derry, CEO of ISM, agreed. Soon after, Derry, Peck, Rigano, and their respective teams met and brainstormed ways to raise awareness of the “perfect storm” of Baby Boomer retirements, misconceptions of Millennials, and how to attract more of them into supply management careers.

ISM’s 30-under-30

Early last year, ISM, in partnership with ThomasNet, decided to hold their own 30-under-30 competition to highlight the best and brightest young supply management professionals in the industry today and hold them up as examples of how Millennials are the future of procurement. They also held the competition to raise awareness among Millennials that supply management could be a viable and rewarding career for them. The name, 30-under-30, was chosen as a highly recognizable concept that would resonate with many in the industry. ISM and ThomasNet announced the competition, called for nominations, and hoped for the best.

At first, Peck, Rigano, and their respective teams were relieved to get 30 nominations, but ended up receiving over 200 nominations in the first year of the competition. It was a hard task narrowing down the list.

“The quality of talent blew us away,” said Peck, who noted that men and women made up an equal number of the nominations from across the country. The selection committee evaluated the nominations for their accomplishments, collaboration, initiative, innovation, and leadership they displayed on and off the clock. Of the 225 nominations they received, Peck and Rigano’s teams narrowed the list down to 30 finalists, three quarters of which are female, and selected a winner. They chose 29-year-old Katy Conrad Maynor, Category Manager, Finished Lubricants/B2B with Shell Oil as their “Megawatt Star”.

Although an honor just to be nominated, Maynor and her cohort of 30 finalists all received complimentary ISM membership for a year and entrance to this year’s annual conference in Phoenix. In particular, Maynor and her nominator received an all-expenses paid trip to the event, and she and several of her cohort will join a panel discussion regarding Millennials in procurement.

Think You Know Millennials? Think Again.

Having reviewed all of the nominations and made their selections, Peck and Rigano noted a number of common threads among the 30-under-30 finalists. Many of them were surprising, and bode well for the future of not just procurement and supply management, but the future of the workforce. All of the finalists are highly collaborative and innovative, particularly since they often work on diverse, multi-generational teams that may be reluctant to change. They are good listeners, fast learners, eager to jump in and help increase efficiencies, but also confident enough to offer different solutions to traditional challenges, or to introduce new technologies. In such cases, they recognize that buy-in is key, as it takes significantly more time to earn trust than it does to lose it should things go awry.

For the 30-under-30, their jobs are not just about a paycheck. Job satisfaction and a healthy work-life balance are also key for Millennials. They want to make a difference in their jobs, make a positive impact at home and abroad, and find a harmony between work and life. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability are immensely important to this generation. “They really are thinking about the company and the global environment,” noted Peck.

Unlike past generations, more money does not always keep them planted in roles. Millennials crave better engagement and a sense that they are making meaningful contributions to important work. While it may be somewhat true that Millennials do not stay in the same job for long, they tend to move up and around within companies rather than out. They are constantly seeking the next challenging opportunity, and are not content to punch the same card for the next 10 years. Also, while Millennials may not have invented virtual offices, work-from-home arrangements, or flexible schedules, they ditch the cubicle and take advantage of the ability to work remotely or from their favorite café.

The finalists are also globally-minded, having grown up in a post-Cold War world where there is no east and west; where globalization, the internet, and social media have shrunk the world and brought it to their fingertips. That all said, they still make time for themselves (some of their hobbies include body building, cooking, and figure skating), their families, and their communities. All of them find time to volunteer, a fact that truly surprised Peck and Rigano. And when asked who their heroes were, many said their parents, for it was them that sacrificed so that they could get an education, grow, and flourish professionally and personally. So much for those stereotypes….

The project did confirm a couple of Millennial stereotypes, however – that they are tech-savvy products of the internet age where fast, wireless connections are the norm. And that they are not afraid of data. When presented with a project and a large, complex data set, Millennials are not intimidated; they roll their sleeves up and get to work building data models, crunching numbers, and writing him-impact reports for senior executives.

A Perfect Storm Awaits, but Help is on the Way

“By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be of the millennial age. Millennials are on route, if they’re not there already, to outpace the number of Baby Boomers alive,” noted Rigano. While many organizations have not begun to engage, or effectively engage Millennials as part of a dedicated, systematic recruitment and retention campaign, some organizations are going out of their way to draw them, touting fast advancement, generous salaries and benefits, flexible work arrangements, and the promise of meaningful work. In many ways, these perks are no different from what is traditionally offered to recruit and retain the best and brightest.

But perhaps what is different is the realization that the Millennials are the future of our workforce, and there needs to be a more thoughtful effort by procurement and supply management leaders to engage them, win their “hearts and minds”, and bring them into the profession. After all, procurement and supply management are competing with myriad industries, like finance, marketing, and technology, to offset losses from the Baby Boomer generation that are already occurring. It cannot afford to hold onto stereotypes of Millennials, the worst of which are unfair and untrue. But thanks to the fine work by ISM and ThomasNet, we can point to a cohort of procurement and supply management leaders that, at this very moment, is defying these stereotypes and advancing the profession.

Post Script: In the coming weeks, look for articles featuring several of these 30-under-30 stars, many of which we’ll be meeting this week.

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