To find out the secrets of engaging with younger workers, we talked to Jan Owen, who has spent her career championing the benefits of diversity in the workforce and boardrooms.

The CEO of the advocacy group Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), Owen leads a team relentlessly optimistic about the power of young people to change the world.

"We’re providing new generations with the tools, skills and networks to navigate the complexities of youth and young adulthood so they can become passionate, for-purpose employees creating sustainable solutions to intractable social issues," says Owen.

It’s a noble aim, and FYA’s strategy for ensuring that it happens so appeals to its core demographic that it has a "massive queue" of talented recruits to choose from.

Permission to innovate

The majority of FYA’s 75 staff and most interns and volunteers around the country are Gen Y; its executive team is a mix of X and Y; and its constitution stipulates three of nine board members must be under 26. A further 50,000 are connected to FYA’s myriad platforms, and Owen expects a quarter of a million by year’s end.

They’re invited to "craft their own journey" through the organisation and be active participants in its policies and programs.

FYA supports an "entrepreneurial approach" by its employees, providing time for them to work on outside ventures using the skills they’ve learned at FYA. Importantly, it "gives them permission to innovate" and think differently about any part of the organisation.

"One of the real barriers to innovation in the sector is that NFPs don’t relate to their customers except as clients," says Owen. At FYA, customers drive the business, helping to design products and services.

Exposure to ‘pop-up’ teams provides highly-transferable skills in project management and product design, so that workers are ready to take on leadership roles in the sector or elsewhere.

The new career trajectory

One stumbling block for young people and the organisations that need them is the demand for a traditional ‘linear’ CV in a working world that’s increasingly portfolio-based. That disconnect perpetuates the myth that young people can’t be relied on to stick with the program, so to speak.

But Owen says a nomadic career path is reality for young people today. "They’re going to have 14 different jobs in five different industries, many of which don’t exist yet, so we help them build a narrative that links their business and personal activities," she says.

"We may not know what will happen, or what work they should do, but it’s our collective responsibility to give them incredible skills, knowledge, expertise and an enterprising way of being in the world," Owen says.

In other words…

 Invite young people to help drive the business.

  • Embrace their ideas and give them permission to innovate.
  • Give them the tools to help them change your organisation, and the world.

As part of our ongoing NFP focus the Australian Institute of Company Directors has partnered with the Observership Program which places talented young professionals aged 25-40 years on NFP boards for a period of 12 months as observers.  This initiative is designed to improve next generation involvement and succession planning of NFP boards.