Four reasons giving back gives careers a boost

It’s no secret – employees just entering the workplace, including millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (those born after 1997), are the future of our business community and our region. These two groups will make up 58% of the workforce by 2030, according to experts.

This gives them huge potential to become the next generation of change makers, both in the workplace and in the community.

“Young professionals aren’t always going to be young professionals,” said Whitney Lawson, design professional at HOK and vice-chair of United Way’s United Young Leaders (UYL) group. “We’re aging up and becoming leaders in our careers. This is our time to get involved.”

Here are four ways young professionals are honing their skills and passions for the future.

Connecting with the community through volunteering

For Julie Whitehead, engineer at Burns & McDonnell and chair of UYL, volunteering is what got her connected with the community after college and empowered her to grow her experience.

“I was out of school, had just moved back to St. Louis and was looking for a way to get involved,” she recalled. “United Way offers a lot of opportunities with different organizations across the area, to volunteer with people my age at different places. I didn’t want to commit to just one thing when there was more out there for me to learn.” 

Young professionals like Whitehead are driven to find purpose and make the world a better place.

Whether it’s alongside colleagues at work or out in the community, volunteering offers opportunities to learn new skills for professional growth. It benefits the community, too – 10 volunteer hours add up to a $250 value for nonprofits!

With so many causes to choose from, it can be hard to know how to plug in. UYL provides a variety of volunteer opportunities for young professionals ages 35 and younger. Because United Way supports a network of nonprofits that address the varied needs of our community, members can help with a variety of causes, from education and health to financial stability and basic needs.

“I care so much about so many causes that it’s hard for me to pick one,” Lawson said. “I want to support them all. With a group like this, you can find causes that you’re more interested in and organizations that you didn’t even know existed. It’s a really good connector.”

Network with colleagues and community leaders

Building relationships can be a great chance to gain new skills and make connections that lead to future career opportunities.

“It makes you more well-rounded. It gets you out there, meeting people from different areas and sectors, and meeting different organizations,” said Whitehead. “Anything that expands your view of the world or community is a benefit, even professionally.”

UYL offers networking and other engagement opportunities that allow members to meet new people, network within and across industries and get acquainted with St. Louis’ volunteering and philanthropic scene.

“UYL connects you with people in the community doing all types of work, and we form our own community, which is something we all strive for,” Lawson said. “It also connects you with community as a whole so you see the hands-on effects of volunteering.”

Within the workplace, networking and mentoring can also allow all employees to learn from one another. Young professionals can learn organizational history and context from their more seasoned colleagues, and senior employees can be inspired by the fresh perspectives of younger ones. For companies, facilitating these relationships can be a key strategy to attract and retain all employees.

Learn new skills

When it comes to work, employees may be interested in more than just a paycheck. According to a recent Gallup report, 87% of young people said professional development opportunities are important to them and one of the main factors in staying with a company.

This all stems from their desire to have an impact – to have a job and workplace that’s meaningful and to be able to invest back into their workplaces. Letting employees take ownership of a project is a great first step.

“You get the opportunity to develop some leadership skills and see behind the curtain, and how organizations operate,” Whitehead said. “There are learning opportunities there, as well as opportunities to take ownership of a mission and make it happen. It’s neat to see things come together.”

In addition to volunteer opportunities, UYL offers opportunities for members to learn valuable leadership skills while making a difference. By volunteering with UYL’s cabinet, members can lead the direction of the group, strategize ways to engage new members, guide volunteer projects from start to finish, brainstorm new events and more.

Making an impact

As much as employees care about supporting the community, they also want their employers to do the same.

“We’re looking for hands-on opportunities. We’ll end up being better employees if they have those opportunities, especially if they have the support of their employer,” Whitehead said. “We want to see action, and the best way to do that is to get out there and be part of it.”

According to the Cone Communications report, 76% of young professionals consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, and nearly two-thirds won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility.

Supporting local causes not only helps businesses appeal more to potential employees, but by encouraging their current employees to support them as well, they’ll have opportunities to find a cause they connect with.

Learn more about how UYL helps young professionals and companies to make an impact and how you can join.

James Taylor
James Taylor