The creation of a young professional network is a personal one for me. Looking back on my career, I have been fortunate to find mentors and to build a professional network with role models to follow. Finding a mentor is the most important advice I give when growing your career. Professional networking is the other, but how do you do it? Many agree with the importance but the question is should government or private industry help build a professional network for its employees?
When I ask this question people often get this confused with bringing people (to) government or (to) industry. It isn’t that. The question is how do you retain and grow professionals. How do you grow the next generation of leaders?
The importance of building a professional network was kindled several years ago while I was participating on a Census panel that was discussing innovation. (Actually, it might be more accurate to say it was discussing the lack of innovation in the federal government.) At one point during an open Q&A, a reporter asked a question, which was actually more like a statement: that the federal government was not doing enough to entice millennials to public service.
The director disagreed, and before he could elaborate, a young woman stood up from the front row and said, ”I want to introduce myself. I’m here specifically for that reason: to change the Census Bureau. To do so, we are launching young professionals networking for government employees here at the Census Bureau.”
She then went on to articulate her four “must-haves” for creating such a network, and her outlook both moved and inspired me. That chance encounter set me on a path to find like-minded people that were just as passionate as that young lady and wanted to build and empower a young professionals network.
Her four-point plan was right on the money, and I think it could be used across government, or any other industry really, to support and encourage young people at the beginning of their career. And, as an added bonus, it also provides a much-needed outlet for long-timers like myself, eager to pay it forward. If you are interested in creating such a program, here are her four tips to help get you started:
- It Needs to be Social: While many working groups find a moment to gather during their working day, this effort needs to be conducted outside of normal working hours. Young people often miss the more active social networking that was usually a part of their collegiate experience. You want to make sure that you provide an outlet for actual professional networking. There are many avenues available for this type of beyond the office walls interaction: meet ups at local restaurants; happy hours at a new brew pub; an organized outing to a local bowling alley. Really, the mode is up to you, just make sure it offers the ability for actual social interaction. Plus, people are more likely to show up and participate if it seems like something worth delaying the slog through rush-hour traffic!
- It Needs to be Diverse: Make sure that this networking group reflects more than just your business or industry, and be inclusive and welcoming to all. Diversity needs to be intentional. Look beyond your traditional market sources. Seek out industry organizations, and search for more unique talent pools. There are countless ways to approach a career, and opening yourself up to the imagination and creativity of others, you may find a new approach to something in your own organization.
- It Needs to be Inviting to All, Regardless of Age: Yes, the ultimate goal is to encourage young professionals to service in your industry, but it can also serve as a lightening rod to help older professionals connect with what interested them in their field in the first place. I know for me, I get energized working with these young Millennials and find immense benefit in being part of their unique perspective and approach.
- It Must Have an Element of Service: This is often the part that is overlooked, but the fact is – the wonderful fact is – that younger professionals actively seek the opportunity to contribute to their communities. There are fantastic ways to incorporate this element into your own young professionals network – food drives, 5K runs for charity, days spent working on behalf of Habitat for Humanity or another hands-on philanthropic cause. Millennials seek out and appreciate businesses and organizations who are service-minded, and that is something we should foster in their professional life.
After my day spent on that Census panel, my biggest take-away was the call to action to create a program to nurture and support young professionals as they began their careers – in my case, their career in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Bolstered with this goal, I worked with my team to bring this effort to life. We created a program we call YPN, and keeping this woman’s keys to success in mind, we added components that we thought would work especially well in our sector, like career and leadership training. You can check out our efforts here. Hopefully they inspire you to get out there and create a young professional network for your agency or organization.