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Program LEADs millennials in Baltimore engagement

Providing a more personal connection to the city through educational leadership programs may be enough to retain young professionals in Baltimore. At least, that’s what Economic Alliance of Baltimore and Business Volunteers Maryland leaders hope their LEAD pilot program will do.

“Millennials will be half the work force in 2020, so we need to figure out how to get in front of them, and every city wants to attract them,” said Candace Gill, business development director for Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. “Really it was, ‘how do businesses in Baltimore City keep the attention of millennials through programming to support that attention?’ ”

While leadership development programs already exist for business and civic professional leaders with several years under their belts, the LEAD campaign manager said, companies and board members approached the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore saying that similar opportunities were not available for their younger workers.

To fill the gap, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and Business Volunteers Maryland began a nine-month event series in March to provide leadership development, networking and volunteering workshops for Baltimore’s talented millennials—college-educated adults between the ages of 24 and 32, Gill said.

The program includes four morning leadership workshops, four lunchtime civic education series about topics like economic development, arts and culture, four cocktail-networking events and two volunteer networking events. The group has held five of its 14 events so far, attracting 80 to 100 young professionals, on average, from companies such as Baltimore Gas & Electric, Under Armour, Ellin & Tucker, Suntrust and the Mayor’s office with a 50 percent return rate, Gill said.

“We’re talking about engaging people in the community who have 30, 40 years to really dig in and engage with their communities,” said Gib Mason, director of both the Center for Leadership and Innovation at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the program’s leadership workshops.

The program is more than just recruiting and retaining young professional talent, though, Mason said. It also entails individual growth that will then contribute to company and community growth.

“It’s a matter of recognizing how your brand is how others view you—how you act, how you respond, the things you say, the things you believe in, [and] how you carry yourself in the community gives people an understanding of what you do and what you value,” Mason said. “It’s with that authenticity that we become recognized for what we believe in and what we can accomplish.”

Mason, with the help of other professors from the leadership center, developed lesson plans for the leadership workshops, which teach participants how to increase their “life profits” through making each day memorable, reaching for new experiences, and moving the surrounding community forward.

Brooke Harlander, a 24-year-old project coordinator and analyst for Sagamore Development Company, said she learned how leadership skills can be used both inside and outside the office during Mason’s workshop June 3.

“It was all about how as a leader you can look at things from a different perspective, just looking past the status quo and teaching others how to do the same. As a young person in the workplace that’s striving to do better and also as a student at Hopkins, it was a really good experience,” said Harlander, who is pursuing a master’s degree in real estate and infrastructure.

Jen Presswood, a 29-year-old strategic marketing lead at the audit, tax and consulting firm SC&H, has attended four of the five past events. For her, the program offers a chance to develop her emotional intelligence and professional character.

“They’re all really great events, but the ones I found to be most eye-opening and beneficial are the ones about leadership and taking your career path to the next level,” Presswood said. “I think a lot of millennials look up to their leadership in their industries but don’t know how to get to that level, how to take the steps up to that level.

“It’s the first program that I’ve been a part of and also recognize as being a program that is going to help me not only from a professional perspective, but also a personal perspective,” she added.

Presswood plans on attending doSOMETHING! For Our Community on Wednesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the next event in the series and the first of two volunteer networking events that LEAD directors organized. The event will offer an opportunity for professionals to give back to the community by connecting them with attending nonprofit organizations.   

Thirty volunteer organizations have signed up for the event already, Gill said, and each will have a booth outlining their missions and where their needs are to young professionals focused on social responsibility or interested in increasing their community involvement. There is a $20 charge to attend the event.