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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Spektrix

Tech and data-savvy millennials are ideal employees for arts organisations, but how can we make the sector attractive enough to recruit them, asks Libby Penn.

Group of young people with mobiles/tablets

Arts employers are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to recruiting. That’s probably why we find it so hard to attract and keep talented people. Adapting to the new arts economy means taking more responsibility for our own destinies. That requires people who combine a passion for the industry with practical skills in technology, data management, communications and customer service.

Those workers exist and they have a label: the (much-maligned) millennial.

Upskilling and investment are part of the solution, but so is bringing more digitally native people on to the payroll

It’s no surprise that this group has a high comfort level with technology – natural born digital natives – but survey after survey also confirms that they have professional motivations that extend beyond just making money. Millennials want the world of work to mean something.

They are as interested in how organisations develop their people and how they contribute to society as they are in products and profits. For the arts, where history, culture, creativity and community are literally ‘what we do’, attracting millennials should be a no brainer. But it isn’t.

Changing perceptions

So why aren’t they beating down our doors? It’s partly down to a perception that the arts are still a bit behind when it comes to adopting technology. This is the first generation not to know a world without the internet. Gaming and social media are as natural to them as VCRs and Netscape were to Gen Xers at the same age.

They get data and know instinctively how people communicate and shop online. When they look at the arts as a profession, they see everything that’s inspiring about our industry, but then struggle to find a solid fit for their aptitudes in job postings, role descriptions and interviews.

Let’s also admit that there is still a level of discomfort among many of us ‘elders’ with the millennial generation and their big expectations of what a career should offer them. After years of muttering in the broader business world about how hard it is to relate to the new cohort of uppity juniors, HR professionals have realised how valuable millennials are and have taken steps to accommodate them. The arts should be leading the way on this.

Because let’s face it, we need them. The Nesta report on the adoption of digital-led activities in the arts shows that we are actually losing ground, with just 43% of us saying we use data to develop online strategies (down from 47% in 2013). The biggest barrier noted in the report is a skills gap in data analysis, as well as lack of staff time.

Techniques for the right fit

That’s why a steady influx of millennials should be core to recruitment strategies in the arts. At Spektrix we’ve worked out a few techniques for making ourselves attractive, finding the right employee fit and achieving a good generational mix. Here are some tips from our experience so far:

  • Define your culture and the things you stand for as an organisation. In our case, we have a clear mission statement, underpinned by a written set of values, the first of which is: ‘We put our people first’.
  • Spend time on social media where your employees and prospective employees are. Speak to them in the right way and keep it real. Don’t promote job listings, promote your culture.
  • Remember that while you are looking for the right person to suit a role, the candidate is looking for the right job. Take the time to invite and answer any questions they might have. This process is about finding philosophical alignment between you as an organisation and them as a prospective employee.
  • Show them, don’t tell them. Present your company as an organisation comprised of real humans, but make it more than simply being friendly and presenting a human face. You might allow candidates to sit in reception for a while to see how you operate, what you ‘feel’ like. A series of interviews with people from different parts of the company is another good idea.
  • Make it a conversation, not an interrogation. Arts organisations need to establish a two-way discussion with millennial candidates in order to understand their ability to grasp and debate concepts. Here we try to assess their potential as much as their experience. We try to find out their passions, what motivates them, what makes a good environment for them, and what their strengths are.
  • Keep the rest of your team in the back of your mind. Will the person fit the dynamic of your current team, or will they cause friction and drop sour notes into the mood music of the group? It’s a highly subjective measure, but if you consider everyone’s feedback on the candidate post-interview, you will be likely to get it right. Happy people, comfortable in their work and social environment, will always be more productive.

Digital capabilities for survival

Arts organisations may need to rethink how they go about the business of recruitment if they’re going to capture the interest of tech- and data-savvy workers. Too many of us are struggling to develop digital capabilities in a time when we absolutely need them to survive. Upskilling and investment are part of the solution, but so is bringing more digitally native people on to the payroll.

Millennials are just what we need to drive more revenue, make insightful decisions about programming, and fuel audience growth.

Libby Penn is Managing Director of Spektrix.

This article is part of a series, sponsored and contributed by Spektrix, aiming to provoke new thinking in how we use ticketing and CRM systems to maximise revenue and grow audiences.

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Photo of Libby Penn


Would you consider that all stereotypes bear a little examination before we start using them to make recruiting decisions? When I read the an article which appears to say "if you want someone savvy with data, get a 'millennial'," I have to ask, where is the data that younger people tend to be more skilled with data in particular, or tech in general? Yes, they grew up knowing how to resize an iPad image with a pinch, and I was nearly 30 before I used a word processor. However, just as most of us oldies who grew up with cars and phones and TVs, have very little real expertise in those technologies, the young 'uns are not always as savvy as one would like to imagine. Indeed, there was a Google video of interviews suggesting that 90% don't know the difference between a browser and a search engine (something all of us who used the Net in the mid-1990s learned: tech has got too easy, and there is too much hand-holding for young people to simply pick it up implicitly). My experience in the web industry is that it is a relatively young industry. However, that could be because the training and jobs simply did not exist for those starting their careers decades ago. I would be hard put to it, to say with confidence that my experience bears out the stereotype that oldies are worse with tech, even if there is a tail-off in familiarity among pensioners. What does the data tell us on this point? There are questions of fairness, ageism, and sexism: the preponderance of males who choose to work in tech is declining but still marked, and a similar argument could be made for endeavouring to attract young men specifically, without actively excluding young women. Leaving aside those questions, which will be relevant in real recruiting decisions, I wonder whether there is any data to support the idea that millenials are likely to be a better bet in promoting an organization's digital awareness and engagement? Perhaps it is no accident that someone like me, who benefits form the experience that goes with being the 'wrong' side of 55, is the reader whose immediate reaction is, "what does the data tell us?"