An Interview with Talent Development Expert Travis Dommert

An estimated 10,000 baby boomers leave the workforce every day. Current projections show millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. It’s a sea change that Travis Dommert navigates every day in his role as Senior Vice President of Jackson Healthcare – the 3rd largest healthcare staffing company in the United States.

“It’s dramatic,” says Dommert. “We are concerned with the amount of insight and knowledge and skill that leaves us when someone retires. And then we’ve got a whole new workforce that’s coming in that’s bringing opportunity. They’re bringing a different perspective. They’re very tech savvy as everyone knows, it’s their native language, as opposed to something we have to learn.”

I sat down with Travis Dommert recently, to gain more insight into hiring, training and, crucially, retaining “younger people.” What we uncovered may surprise you.

How do millennials fit into the culture at Jackson Healthcare?

Our culture is based on three core values at JH: others first, wisdom and growth. If there could only be one value, it would be “others first.” Quite frankly that would be the foundation of our culture with any generation here. But I do think our values have resonated with millennials, because that culture says ‘’I’m here to serve.” We’re here to think long term and we’re here to get better.

With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day from the global workforce, how do you get this younger generation up to speed?

Our numbers do reflect that pattern. We’re losing some of our senior leaders to the natural attrition of retirement. We’re going to miss them personally and professionally. We’re going to miss their wisdom and their insight as a growing company. It means we have to think a lot about succession planning, a lot about developing future generations of leaders. Right now our transitions last for months, not days, and that’s really helpful.

How are your training methods evolving to accommodate this new, younger workforce?

We have something here called JH University, developed by an incredibly experienced leader development expert. But it was still very traditional. Classroom-based with no remote option. There was no micro-learning, no significant technology and it wasn’t always experiential.

This younger generation is not going to sit there and absorb eight hours of classroom style training. We’ve found when we change it to something more consumable, our older team members appreciate it too; whether it’s pre-work at their desk, some content or a webinar. We’re giving them an experience, putting them into teams, and they also get breaks every 90 minutes. We found the way we’re evolving our training now is better for everyone.

So the challenge of training younger people is benefiting the entire workforce?

Yes. I don’t know why we didn’t do it sooner, because this is not necessarily a tech thing. We can now push more learning in small bite-sized pieces and it can be more real time. We have access to massive learning platforms such as “LinkedIn Learning” and huge libraries of content. It’s changed the offering at JHU from 18 classes to 7,000 classes.

Experiential learning is amazing. I put five people on a team and give them a task and some background information. Then I have them compete against three other teams of five people. Engagement goes way up. People laugh and they cry, and they argue and they fight to win – and we do that in the context of learning.

Young people have grown up with video games, praise, prizes, instant gratification, but you’re seeing older employees responding to that too?

Yes. I would generalize and say everybody likes to play a game. Most people like fun, a little competition and learning something new. It’s just a different paradigm of helping them discover it, as opposed to tell, tell, tell.

Is communication different for younger people who grew up with a 280 character limit on social media?

Yes. Now we have all this real time communication. Compare that to years ago, when the main communication method was the memo. You could write a memo and then sit it on your desk and think about it. There may be hours between the time you composed it, to the time someone consumed it. You had a chance for a second thought. You might even go racing after the mail cart to get it back, because maybe you were a little heated. Maybe you said something you didn’t need to say in person, or didn’t mean. Now, everything’s instant.

Speechworks has an impromptu workshop that really resonates with companies with a lot of young people. We train them how to do well with those unprepared moments. How do you see younger people handling impromptu situations?

I think it’s great that you’re offering that training because effective communication is not something we were born with. I’ve been through your program and you train our leaders and it’s amazing to hear the effectiveness of a well-curated, well-structured, simple message. You teach, “a wealth of information leads to a poverty of attention.” So, mastering the sound bite, mastering that short little conversation is a huge skill and a great opportunity. And I think that’s something our younger folks don’t do as well because so much of their communication may have been digital.

How about public speaking? Are young people better or worse than the older generation?

The studies are fascinating and show how horrified people are about presentations and public speaking. I think young people are better at it than we were. One of the benefits they have is access to really effective communicators. For example, Steve Jobs rolled out those really amazing product releases and by the next day our new young person had already watched them all. They have access to every presentation that’s ever been captured. They get to see highly curated messages like TED Talks. They get to see how that’s done. I probably didn’t see a world class presenter in the first 15 years of my career.

Retaining younger people is a challenge. It seems they’re ready to move on quickly if they’re not satisfied. Do studies suggest they’re more willing to stay if they see benefits like good training or access to leadership in a short time?

We have lots of data showing people are more willing to leave jobs sooner than they used to be. When we hire, it’s not uncommon to find applicants who have had a different job every single year. We don’t hire those candidates. They simply don’t get consideration. We’re looking for at least three years tenure on average, regardless of their age or experience. We look for someone who’s demonstrated some ability to stay with the job at least for a while.

There are no perfect jobs or perfect companies. In most places, if you stick around six to 12 months, you’ll to run into some kind of trouble or change. If you’re leaving the job every six to 12 months, it tells me as soon as it’s hard, or uncomfortable – you’re leaving. But that’s where the learning starts. You learn when you get uncomfortable and you become more resilient.

Finally, there’s compelling evidence that average tenure is trending up. Research shows people don’t want short jobs, but they are willing to leave to find what they do want. They want significance and they want growth. We talk about that every day and it attracts young people. We also cultivate an environment of learning. We may ask you to host a lunch and learn, or get involved in a stretch project where you bring some of your tech-savvy. You’ve got to give them those growth opportunities and a career path.

Julie Lindsay

Julie LindsayJulie Lindsay draws on a long career in television news to help clients speak in a way that is simple and persuasive. She began her journalism career with the BBC in London, reporting on everything from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, to war zones and revolutions. Next, came a move to the U.S. as anchor and editor on CNN International.

She also served as Chief Managing Editor with WebMD in the U.K. and then programming editor of Global Health Frontline News, making documentaries about kids fighting curable diseases around the world.