Getting ready for gen Z

How should employers respond to newest cohort?
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/16/2015

They don’t remember a world before the Internet, and waiting for anything — information, validation, social interaction — is almost a foreign concept. 


Generation Z, the newest generation to hit the workforce, includes people born roughly between 1996 and 2010. And the oldest are about to enter their 20s, so employers should be prepared, said Jason Kipps, managing director for Canada at employer branding firm Universum in Toronto.  


“In just three years, the first wave of generation Z will enter the workforce — that’s just 36 months from now,” he said.  


“Leading Canadian companies are already executing on strategies to influence this generation’s career choices. These employers are rethinking the employer-employee relationship, reaching out earlier and offering more on-the-job education than is typical today. 


“By building influential relationships with their future candidates and employees, employers can also guide their future candidate’s education choices and can encourage course choices that will save the employer on future training costs.” 


Almost 40 per cent of gen Z are afraid they won’t find a job that’s a good fit for their aptitude and personality, according to a Universum survey of 50,000 young people from 46 countries. 


But if employers develop a strong understanding of this cohort, their integration into the workforce will be much smoother, said Shari Angle, vice-president of special projects at Adecco Canada in Toronto. 


“Employers should take into consideration just the fact that there is a new generation coming in with different expectations, a different mentality, a different way of working, a different way of coming up in the world. And that’s going to cause some adjustments on both ends.”


Differences from millennials 

Generation Z will not be a simple amplification of gen Y, said Tracy Wymer, vice-president of workplace research and strategy at workplace design firm Knoll in San Francisco.  


“Unlike the millennials, they have had a significant impact on mature technology, the iPads, the iPhones… they’ve been really ingrained into how they know the world and how they interact. They don’t know any better, to some degree. You present them with a rotary-dial phone and they’re confused on where to even begin,” he said. 


Those in generation Z are also strongly influenced by the economically challenging times they grew up in, said Kipps. 


“Because they grew up during the recession, their families may have been forced to stay savvy and innovative to stay on top of finances, and gen Z picked up on that. They’re also much more into charity work than the millennials who came before them; over 25 per cent of today’s older members of generation Z volunteer, and 60 per cent of them want their future career choices to change the world for good.” 


They are a particularly idealistic generation, said Angle — but part of that has to do with age as well, not just generational cohort. 

“A lot of generations in their late teens, university stages, are very idealistic — change-the-world type mentality — and then they get into the real world and that changes too,” she said. 


Social connections are also very important, but in a different way than millennials, said Wymer. 


“Even though there’s a strong appreciation for that social connection… they’re really looking for more order and predictability rather than kind of random appreciation that some of the millennals have at the moment.” 


Up to 47 per cent of generation Z would consider alternatives to university, found Universum. 


“Gen Z have grown up in households with the most highly educated parents ever in an economy that seems to be facing an insatiable skills gap. Earlier generations favoured white-collar opportunities and degrees and looked down on trades — that’s changing. Generation Z is also spooked by massive student loan debts saddling millennials, with 56 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 putting off major events like marriage, purchasing a home or saving for retirement due to student debt,” said Kipps. 


Parents who have grown up in the recession are pushing their kids toward employability, not just higher learning, he said. They’re encouraging their children to turn their greatest interests into viable careers.  

  

“While (17 per cent) of generation Z has not yet picked an area to study, 16 per cent is leaning toward humanities and social studies, and 14 per cent toward business. Nearly 70 per cent of gen Zers opt for subjects because they’re interested in them, while only 39 per cent agree that they’re after the money that subject will one day bring them.”


Rethinking the workplace

So how will generation Z reshape the workplace itself? Technology will be a key element we’ll see evolving, said Angle, since gen Z are even more tech-savvy than millennials. 


“One difference is gen Y has liked to work with two screens at the same time; generation Z likes to have five screens at the same time — computer, iPad, whatever it is. It’s just totally integrated into how they behave, both socially and in work situations,” she said. 


“There are still some companies that are not technologically savvy or technologically advanced, and I think those companies would have a very hard time attracting this generation to work for them because they wouldn’t be used to working at the same speed that this generation is used to working in.”


Another key impact will be on communication, said Angle. 


“There’s an immediacy factor in there, so they want instant gratification, instant communication; they like to communicate more with images than with words. They’re not big phone people — a lot of them don’t even have voicemail set up on their phone. It’s all text messaging, it’s all social media, that’s how they communicate.” 


Popularity and traction in their messaging are very important as well — everything revolves around “likes,” comments, “shares” and other indicators of engagement, she said.  


“It might have an impact on how they’re able to make decisions, and how they expect decisions to be made as well, so that could have an impact on the workplace.”


The trend toward mobile workplaces will certainly continue, said Kipps. 


“These digital natives will not only expect this, but most of their parents have made the transition. They have grown up in cultures and home environments where mobility is not as much of a choice as it is the norm,” he said.  


“Given gen Z’s comfort with online learning, and an increasing amount of skepticism about the usefulness of expensive, traditional four-year university programs, it is very likely that on-the-job training will become a more critical component of retaining and developing this future workforce. Leading organizations will embrace this, offering enough substance to replace traditional four-year degrees.” 


Recruitment patterns will have to change as well, said Wymer, because there is some discomfort with too-direct advertising.  


“There’s a little bit of perceived distrust of conventional advertising. There’s also this notion that they’re really seeking sort of a destination. So, as they go through grade school, middle school or high school, they like the aspect of those places having a destination for them to come, to join, to have a community around,” he said. 


Universum asked generation Z whether they would feel comfortable being contacted in their social channels by a company regarding work opportunities, said Kipps. 


“Eighty-three per cent say they are open to the idea. However, when asked how they feel about seeing advertisements from potential employers on social media, this number more than halves. Those companies that approach social with an understanding of what aspects of the career are important for them to talk about when working to attract this cohort can engage these candidates like never before.”  


So it’s important for employers to be proactive when it comes to gen-Z talent, said Kipps. 


“By the time gen Z enters the workforce, they will have already been guided and influenced,” he said. “The race for gen Z starts now, and anyone not thinking ahead will be behind.” 

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