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Millennials Play a Growing Role in Northeast Ohio's Companies and Non-Profits

Millennials are a growing segment of the workforce.

In a few years, millennials are projected to make up half of America’s workforce. And Northeast Ohio companies and non-profits are taking notice. As WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports, people in the age-group born between the early 1980s and mid-to-late 1990s are being sought out to help guide public- and private- organization strategies into the coming decades. 

At Akron-based Goodyear, millennial employees say their ideas are sought out and taken seriously. The company’s global manager for diversity and inclusion, Felecia Johnson, says it’s important to tap into this group’s mindset.

“And certainly Goodyear is in what I call the people business, right? We produce a product that’s consumed by a shopper. And when we know that the demographics of the world is changing, we need to make sure we keep pace.”

Felecia Johnson  Goodyear
Felecia Johnson runs Goodyear's Diversity and Inclusion Department.

Part of keeping pace is creating a millennial-friendly workplace. Thirty-five-year-old Goodyear employee Joe Scafarro says early this year he and other millennials participated in a roundtable discussion with Goodyear CEO Richard Kramer. They raised the idea of finding a way to get out early on Fridays. Scafarro says they quickly got their wish.

“A couple months later, an email came down from the CEO saying, 'Hey, we’re going to pilot this program here in Akron. ... You work 36 hours before Friday and you can work four hours on Friday.' Which is great; a lot of people got to do things they wouldn’t normally do in the summer.”

Joe Scafarro of Goodyear
Goodyear employee and millennial Joe Scafarro says company management trusts millennials to do their jobs in non-traditional ways.

Scafarro says the work rule shows management trusts millennials to get their work done using traditional and non-traditional methods, including mobile devices.

Goodyear millennials have also influenced the way the company’s products are sold. Thirty-eight-year-old employee Kenny Miller says they have helped guide Goodyear’s e-commerce venture for buying tires.

“It’s all on the computer, but it’s all mobile as well. Basically it’s able to order tires or services or whatnot, and then someone contacts you for an appointment to actually install the tires. But as far as the millennial perspective, it’s just very easy to use.”

Kenny Miller
Goodyear millennial Kenny Miller

Beyond Goodyear
Thirty-year-old Kelly Albin works in the legal department of Cleveland’s Sherwin Williams Company. She says the company values her opinions and those of other millennial employees. And, the company encourages them to get involved in their communities.

Albin is on the board of Front Steps, a Cleveland organization that finds housing for mentally disabled clients. She first got involved by attending a volunteer event.

“It was a Christmas event that focused on providing gifts to children, and they were able to come in and a Christmas story was read to them. The organization from there contacted a few board members. They got me involved in planning the annual 'Home for All Ball.' It was the first year they were doing an evening event, a weekend event annual fundraiser.” 

Kelly Alben
Sherwin Williams millennials employee Kelly Alben is a board member for a Cleveland social service agency.

Front Steps Executive Director Sherri Brandon says Albin is one of two highly valued millennials on the non-profit’s board. She says Albin brings a fresh approach to the job that the typically older board members do not, and now she chairs the organization’s main fundraiser.

"She works with the silent auction piece, and she just does it all from the ground up. And so having her as a part of that has just been exciting. ... We have photo booths, we do a lot of creative photography, Kelly has brought so many different ideas to that particular event.”

And Brandon says millennials are valuable in another way as well.

“To me, they’re the group that knows more about technology than anyone. And as a result of one of them, we have a whole new website platform. And we’re able to drive more traffic to our website because of that.”

Cities try to appeal to the demographic
This kind of talent and drive is something cities compete for.  Kyle Kutuchief is program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Akron, which works to attract and retain college-educated millennials. He cites a recent study showing the city must do more to appeal to this demographic.

Kyle Kutuchief
Kyle Kutuchief of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Akron.

“If you look at the city of Akron from 2000 to 2013, there was zero percent growth in the college-educated 25 to 34. The cities that they benchmarked us against, 5 other rust-belt cities with similar population loss from 1960 to 2000. The other 5 cities grew 11 to 41 percent in the college-educated 25 to 34 in the city.

"Why not us? Why not Akron? We can make that case, and so we’re working with the new administration, Mayor Horrigan, Jason Segedy and their team to look at how do we make the case to millennials to choose Akron.”

The Knight Foundation, the City of Akron and other community groups recently announced an ambitious plan to reinvigorate downtown with new amenities, including housing. It’s an effort aimed primarily at enticing millennials.