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Let’s activate the next generation of leaders

Let’s activate the next generation of leaders

In the veterinary profession, we never take for granted that being entrusted with the care of a beloved pet is to be invited into the emotional center of a person’s life. It is a privilege and responsibility that we all take to heart. And while delivering the very best care for pets is a timeless, steadfast commitment for all veterinary health providers, the world around us is evolving rapidly. One of the most significant changes is demographic, especially with the generational mix within our workforce.

As I look within my organization at Banfield Pet Hospital, three-fourths of our associates are millennials or Gen Zers. Not only is this demographic shift happening within our workforce, but millennials also represent today’s largest population of pet owners. Whether we look inside or outside of our hospital walls, our industry is undergoing a sea change and transition of power as younger generations become the core drivers of our operations and the future of our businesses.

With younger generations moving from minority to majority, we are presented with an opportunity to step back and reevaluate. It’s essential that we build a culture within our industry and individual organizations that better attracts, retains and engages millennial and Gen Z talent. Doing so will require reprioritization and investment.

Here are five areas we must focus on as an industry to ensure we are creating the right conditions for the talent of today and tomorrow:

1. Be Social — Engage and Listen

To successfully connect with millennials and Gen Zers, it’s important to meet them where they are engaging. Increasingly today, that means through social media platforms like Instagram as a complement to in-person time. Social media can be an invaluable tool for connection, and it provides a direct, two-way dialogue that ensures all voices are heard. For example, each month I host #BanterWithBrian on Instagram to solicit and answer questions from Banfield associates, in addition to physically visiting and hosting huddles in as many of our 1,000-plus hospitals as possible. The ideas, comments and feedback I hear and then act on — whether new scrubs policies or technology investments — are critical to not only the future success of our practices but also the continued engagement of our workforce.

2. Help Tackle Student Debt

Veterinarians face some of the highest educational debt of any profession. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarians graduate with an average of $167,000 in student loans, and this number may continue to rise in the coming years. Educational debt is a major driver of mental stress and financial hardship, so it’s essential that the industry take a serious look at ways to lessen the burden, either through more financial support or by looking at long-term solutions to lower the cost of education. To help address the issue, we launched the Banfield Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program, a first-of-its-kind financial well-being benefit designed to provide new and meaningful support to our associates.

3. Prioritize Health and Well-Being

Millennials and Gen Zers are among the most health-conscious generations, seeking careers that offer balance and employers that provide benefits to meet their personal needs. Far too often, employers look at this space in a silo, thinking about compensation and medical benefits only. Doing so misses the arguably larger opportunity to create a culture that looks at a broader continuum to foster a healthy mind, career, body, finances and community. For example, consider offerings like flexible schedules, volunteer programs, stress resilience and energy management programs, as well as continuing education funds and industry memberships.

4. Ensure Inclusion and Diversity

Preparing for demographic shifts requires a diverse workforce as well as an environment that brings inclusion to the forefront. Enabling a true sense of belonging where veterinary professionals can bring their authentic self to the profession requires inclusion and diversity to work in concert. There are many ways we can do this better as an industry, including outreach to students at younger ages to ensure the right talent pipeline and empowering diversity resource groups within organizations to create meaningful dialogue, understanding and connection.

5. Give Room to Give Back

Our associates tell us every day that entering this field was a calling. And while veterinary professionals get to do that through their work, they also need the space, time and sponsorship to give back in their communities. This is especially true for younger generations that are not simply looking for a paycheck but also for a company that pays it forward by doing what’s right for pets, people and society.

As demographics evolve, the veterinary industry must evolve with them. And this will require us to deliver not only care differently but also employee engagement and experiences. For the veterinary industry, we must see these challenges as an opportunity to lead and ensure that the voices of our workforce dictate the vision of our industry.

I am confident that the most transformative solutions will come from the next generation of talent. This will only happen if we remain committed to listening and creating an inclusive culture, ensuring that the emotional center of our industry is unwaveringly focused on our people.

Brian Garish is president of Banfield Pet Hospital.