Communities across the country are struggling to address workforce shortages and Missoula is no exception. With an unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at a shockingly low 3.1 percent as of August 2017, Missoula’s employers need to focus on innovative workforce strategies if we are to attract and retain the talent necessary to drive our economy forward.

The Missoula Economic Partnership’s State of the Workforce Study for Missoula, set for release on Tuesday, Oct. 24, will help establish strategies and best practices for employers and the business community at large to address this workforce shortage.

What’s becoming increasingly apparent is the need to implement a workforce strategy that specifically caters to a millennial population. Why? Because millennials will make up nearly 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, and their definition of ideal workplace culture looks different than that of preceding generations.

It is important to recognize that the way workplaces function is changing if we are going to come up with workforce solutions. The millennial generation represents the greatest share of the U.S. workforce, they will have a significant long-term impact on the field of economic development. Increasingly, it is this generation’s focus on inclusive and open-minded social beliefs that drives new conversations about workplace culture and economic development approaches.

To attract and retain talent for jobs of the future, Missoula employers need to consider how their workplace practices appeal to millennials.

A recent study by Deloitte University’s Leadership Center for Inclusion, titled “The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion,” found that millennials are “the most traditionally diverse, digitally connected, and socially minded” segment of the workforce to date. The study concluded that “millennials have substantially different perspectives on diversity and inclusion than older generations,” noting differences in the way millennials and older generations define diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The study found that millennials define inclusion primarily through a culture of connectivity and collaboration, while older generations define inclusion in more objective terms of “equity, fairness, and the integration, acceptance, and tolerance of gender, racial and ethnic diversity within the organization.” While older generations focus on diversity through the lens of representation, demographics and equality, millennials view diversity as “pertaining to the individual mix of unique experiences, identities, ideas and opinions.”

What else do millennials want? Flexibility. Another study, “Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace,” conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, found that professional development and work/life balance are more important to the millennial workforce than to previous generations, and, more importantly, that millennials are quick to change jobs when they feel that work/life balance and diversity promises are not being kept.

Also according to the PwC study, “(millennial) employees are more productive if they have greater autonomy over where, when, and how they work.” Thanks to mobile digital technologies, employers are increasingly able to offer choice and flexibility over work schedules, which millennials value.

Employment and workplace practices are changing constantly and rapidly in the wake of digital advances, and those changes need to address and reflect millennial perspectives and preferences. Millennials value flexibility, engagement, and inclusivity in their workplaces, and employers should keep these values in mind as they shift to accommodate a changing workforce. As the Deloitte study concludes:

“If you want to build a truly inclusive culture — one that leverages every individual’s passion, commitment and innovation, and elevates employee engagement, empowerment, and authenticity — you should be willing to break down the narrow walls that surround diversity and inclusion and limit their reach. If you don’t know where to start, ask your millennials. Every one of them wants to be heard.”

James Grunke is chief executive officer of the Missoula Economic Partnership. He writes a monthly column for the local media.