To keep millennial employees in fold, BOK offers them new path

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Paige Moore had worked in BOK Financial's human resources department for five years when she realized it was time for a change.

Having spent most of those years in training and development, she wanted a new challenge and the chance to try a career in commercial banking. Rather than leave the Tulsa, Okla., bank, Moore applied for a spot in its Accelerated Career Track program at the urging of her supervisor. Moore is now a credit specialist in the health care lending division and she credits the program with helping her make a career transition while staying at the institution.

“This opportunity is probably what ultimately kept me at the bank. I was ready to pursue a different track and ready to broaden my skill set and look for a new challenge. This fit the bill perfectly,” Moore said in an interview. “I would have hated to leave the relationships I developed and the organizational knowledge I gained from that HR perspective, so for me this was the best of both worlds.”

The ACT program has been a mainstay at the $33.3 billion-asset BOK for more than 40 years, but it has been geared almost exclusively to employees brand new to the bank. That may soon change.

BOK is piloting a new track in the program for midcareer professionals who want to train for a different job function rather than leave the company.

Stacy Tiger, director of talent and organizational development, said that adapting the program for midcareer professionals is BOK’s response to millennial workers, who don’t always want to do the same job for 20 years.

“What we know and what the research tells us is that, for millennials specifically, if they are not given a different opportunity, they will leave within two to three years,” she said. “In the past, we didn’t have to worry about that. We had people who were somewhat committed for a lifetime. We now have a war for talent and we have people looking for internal mobility. We have to be as creative as we can.”

A Deloitte survey of millennial employees found those who planned to leave their current employer within two years far outnumbered those who planned to stay for more than five years. The difference was even starker for Generation Z, usually defined as people born in or after 1995.

However, a positive workplace culture, flexibility in when and where work gets done and opportunities for continuous learning topped millennial workers’ priorities in an employer and helped improve their loyalty.

Brian Dresch, a client partner with Korn Ferry, said he’s seen companies take a greater interest in talent and executive development training programs over the past three to five years. He said the emergence of those programs has been motivated at least as much by generational employment trends as they are by a broader desire to keep high potential employees engaged.

“The biggest point is in that midcareer type of range, that’s typically where you see a lot of turnover, too, where individuals with five, seven, 10 years into a particular role are thinking about what’s next,” Dresch said.

Though smaller banks seldom have the luxury of in-house training programs, it’s just as important that they identify their high performers and seek ways to keep them engaged, said Susan Pardus, a partner at KLR Executive Search Firm.

“If it’s harder to recruit, there is the opportunity and the need to train them for new roles,” she said. “If they’re a good performer, you want to keep them, and that may require some additional training.”

Historically, BOK has recruited bankers into its ACT program from colleges and campus job fairs. The program begins with summertime classroom sessions that teach both credit training and soft skills, like networking and leading meetings. Recruits then embark on four six-week rotations through different business lines at the bank.

More recently the company has brought a few midcareer professionals into the program alongside those newly minted bankers. The ACT cohort numbers around 24 to 27 every year, Tiger said, and she estimated that over the past three years, about a dozen graduates from the program had already been employed with the bank.

When Moore initially approached Tiger about making a career transition, she wasn’t sure whether she would even get into the program. But Tiger, who described Moore as “very talented,” said that she knew “we have to do whatever we can to keep her,” and encouraged her to apply anyway.

BOK plans to officially launch the new track within the ACT program next year. The company is also working on making some modifications to the program to better accommodate those employees who may be parents or caregivers. For example, the program is currently based entirely in Tulsa, but BOK is looking at incorporating a remote learning element.

Tiger said that early experiments with the new approach have been promising.

“Not only do they have the opportunity to re-career and try something new, but they’ve already been at the bank for a couple years and they’ve shown a real commitment to the organization,” Tiger said. “Their values align with our values and they’re just interested in contributing in a different way.”

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