WATERVILLE — It’s critical for companies to invest in policies and benefits that appeal to millennials.

That’s according to Tom Dowd, who spoke Thursday morning about the group of people born in the years 1981 to 1997 — roughly ages 19 to 35. Dowd, owner of Thomas Dowd Professional Development and Coaching, LLC, spoke to a crowd of 85 people at Thomas College as part of the business breakfast series hosted by the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

By 2020, Dowd said, millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce.

“We need to develop our leaders,” he said, by hiring millennials.

Maine is known as the oldest state in the nation, with a median age of 44.2, according to data released by the US Census Bureau in 2015. Maine also had the largest increase in its median age compared to the rest of the nation from 2013 to 2014. As the population ages, so does the workforce, leaving fewer Mainers to fill job openings and pay taxes.

Dowd said the goal of his talk was to help business leaders get a better understanding of the four different generations that are now working side by side.

To attract and retain a younger workforce, Dowd said, businesses need to provide flexibility, feedback and cultural offerings beyond pay.

“We (businesses) can’t truly adapt until we truly understand each other,” he said.

Dowd presented a general overview of the stereotypical values of each generation but also emphasized that employers have to think about the individual and avoid being biased about hiring younger people because of assumptions.

While Maine is aging and needs to retain its young people more than ever, a Business Insider analysis of data from the Minnesota Population Center’s 2014 American Community Survey shows that Maine might be one of the lowest-paying states for millennials.

According to the analysis, the median income for millennial Mainers in 2014 was $19,200. Nationally, the lowest median was $18,000. Two states close Maine — Vermont and Massachusetts — both had median incomes for millennials in the mid-$20,000s.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

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Twitter: @madelinestamour