The Battle for the Millenials.
No, this isn’t a new sci-fi video game or movie. The term “millenials” is a description used by USPTO Director Jon Dudas in his recent testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding the USPTO’s budget for the 2008 fiscal year. What he is referring to is often described as “Generation Y” individuals, and these are the persons that the USPTO is fighting to attract and retain as employees.
Although defining who falls under the category of “millenial” is subjective, the Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 is one major event that is generally accepted as separating Generation X and Millenials. The widespread use of personal computers and the Internet is also an event shared by the majority of Millenials.
As with the other made-up generational labels, Millenials as a group have been molded by their shared experiences and have common values that distinguish them from other generations. Apparently, the USPTO believes that these Millenials not only care about money, but they also want to be valued as employees . . . go figure.
Below are some excerpts from the the testimony:
SEN. MIKULSKI: So could you – one of the things I noted in your prepared remarks that you submitted, that you don’t want to – you want to retain; you don’t want to keep training the new.
MR. DUDAS: Right.
SEN. MIKULSKI: And we support that. Could you tell us what you’re doing in the area of both retention, and providing and cracking this whole issue of ongoing technical – techno stuff. There are people – when I talk to, like, Nobel Prize winners that have worked – who were civil servants both at NASA and NIST, they said they liked working for the federal government because of its mission. It wasn’t money; it was purpose. And they also worked with the best colleagues in the world, and they had the opportunity for their own intellectual expansion. For us – for them to stay fresh – both technically and fresh in terms of enthusiasm for the job and a desire to stay. Could you talk then about your retention techniques and the opportunity for them to get ongoing education, and do you need something from us?
MR. DUDAS: I think we all – report what you have – and quite honestly, we are looking for guidance from anywhere and everywhere we can get it, but I will tell you that I think we have done a number of things. First and foremost, what you talked about – what do people want today – they are called the millennials. I’m not a millennial – the millennial generation, but many of the people you hire today, they care about government service; they want to be valued. Money matters, but that is not the number-one thing that attracts them, and we try to address that as well. And you talk about training and making sure you show value.
Of course we have a challenge because we are a performance-based organization. People do have to work hard in our office, but there is a number of things that we have done. First and foremost, we have changed the way we train. Instead of having examiners come in and train for two to three weeks, and then have a mentor approach, we have actually started a patent examiner training academy, where they come in for eight months and get extended-term training so we can get a greater level of consistency. It allows for more teamwork; it allows for people to get to know the office better; and more consistency.
That is something that we needed to do both because we thought it was a best practice and because of the amount we were hiring. It has turned out it has been a best practice.
SEN. MIKULSKI: That is when they come. How do you – what about training for them while they are there? In other words, say they work three years.
MR. DUDAS: Yes.
SEN. MIKULSKI: And they want to get refreshed and renewed.
MR. DUDAS: Absolutely.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Both intellectually and –
MR. DUDAS: Absolutely.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Getting to know the new stuff and the new buzz.
MR. DUDAS: Absolutely. One of the things we have done, we have beefed up what we do on allowing examiners to take time and use money to get external training, and we’re doing more on what we’re doing on internal training as well. So for instance, an examiner has the opportunity to have their legal degree paid for. If they want to get education outside, they can get a legal degree outside the office. The office will pay for it. But in addition to that, any training they want to get that is related to their field outside the office will pay up to $10,000 that is related. So Master’s degrees, courses, different things like that.
We are also working on – last year, we had the first-ever managers’ training conference where we worked with managers – we got all of the managers out two days away from the office to talk to them about how they can train better, how they can resolve conflicts better, how they can listen and communicate better with examiners. And so now we are developing what kinds of training programs can we have offer. We already offer several through the office and through the federal government but how do we tailor it specifically for those examiners who have been there for a long time.
Another program that we think is very important for retention is this teleworking that we have been doing. Five-hundred examiners were given the opportunity to work from home last year, and 500 more patent examiners this year – really giving examiners the opportunity to have the flexibility where they determine what they think is the best work environment. They can work from home, they can work with laptops at home, back and forth. And so we have found that that has been an incredible boost for morale, and also gives people more time with their families, but also more time to increase their production if they want to do that.