A brief perusal of recruiting industry literature will show that, while millennials are still a hot topic, the anti-millennial hysteria seems to have died down quite a bit. Perhaps that’s because the millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. We don’t have the luxury of sitting around and wringing our hands about whether or not millennials represent the downfall of civilization as we know it (spoiler alert: They don’t, and they never did). They’re here, and they walk among us. Time to start thinking about how we engage with them in the workplace.
As a millennial myself, I feel deeply for Generation Z (defined, depending on whom you ask, as those born between 1996 and today). Now that we in Gen. Y have been integrated into the workforce, it’s only a matter of time before people turn their attentions toward the next generation and start harassing them.
Luckily, Universum’s comprehensive global study of Generation Z — one of the first of its kind — avoids the unwarranted alarmism one might expect from such a report. Rather, Universum takes a levelheaded look at who the members of Gen. Z are and the changes they may bring to the world economy.
You may think it’s a little early to start thinking about Generation Z, but Universum’s report points out that the first wave of Gen. Z workers will hit the labor force in roughly three years.
“It’s not as though we’re talking about something that’s happening decades from now,” says Kat Lynn, associate director of marking and communications at Universum. “Employers will be actively hiring members of this group very soon, so it’s important to start communicating with them now.”
Generation Z will be here soon — so it’s time for companies to start strategizing.
What Makes Gen. Z Unique?
Every generation is different from the last — that’s what happens when you’re raised in a very different world from the one your parents were born into.
Overall, Generation Z is less optimistic about their careers than previous generations. Their major fears include:
- not finding jobs that matches their personalities;
- not fulfilling their career goals;
- and not performing well in their jobs.
That being said, Generation Z’s relative pessimism does not mean they’ll arrive as listless lumps in the workforce. Lynn says that these digital natives are a “highly diverse and entrepreneurial group.”
“They’ve grown up in the digital age and have never known a pre-Internet world,” she explains. “From a work perspective, they are also growing up in the world of startups, working remotely, always being able to connect — much different from the world their parents and grandparents know. These differences will have implications for the way they approach their careers.”
One such implication is that the members of Generation Z are drawn strongly to entrepreneurial career paths. According to Universum’s study, “a clear majority of respondents [55 percent globally] state an interest in setting up their own business, and in some regions like the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe, the figure is close to 75 percent.”
Recruiting an Entrepreneurial Generation
Gen. Z’s overall preference for entrepreneurship has some clear benefits for employers. After all, who wouldn’t want a staff made up of creative, innovative self-starters?
The challenge, of course, is convincing the entrepreneurs of Gen. Z to bring their talents to existing businesses, rather than start their own companies. Lynn says this can be especially difficult for larger companies, but she’s seen employers cater to entrepreneurial desires in “a variety of ways.”
“For some companies, it’s allowing their employees to have more of a voice about product ideas or process improvements,” Lynn says. “For others, it’s clearly demonstrating the impact that an individual’s work has on the whole. Some companies set aside a day for employees to work on individual or team projects.”
Gen. Z’s entrepreneurial drives don’t necessarily spell disaster for established companies, but employers will have to find creative ways to make their organizations more flexible if they want to leverage the talents of these up-and-coming workers.
Employers should also know that many members of Generation Z are (understandably) wary about traditional forms of higher education. They’ve seen what student loan debt has done to millennials, and they don’t want to end up on the same sinking ship.
Universum’s study encourages employers to ask themselves what they can do to supplement or replace traditional university degrees, given Generation Z’s aversion to “typical” educational paths.
“We’ve seen some employers start to supplement university education with sophisticated training programs, which allow new hires to get up to speed not only on specific organizational policies and products, but also on general hard and soft skills,” Lynn says. “These programs range from several weeks long to several years long, in the form of developmental or rotational programs. As the focus on skills continues to grow, we’ll likely see more and more educational programs like this put into place.”
I’d like to end by specifically talking to my fellow millennials. It wasn’t too long ago that we were in Generation Z’s position, with employers scrambling to figure out both how to engage with us and how to deal with our “unreasonable” demands. By the time Generation Z is starts entering the workforce in droves, many of us millennials will be the ones hiring these people.
So, please, don’t start writing think pieces about how Generation Z signals the end of the world. We all rolled our eyes when previous generations said the same thing about us. Don’t inflict that boring torture on the next generation.
Instead, start paying attention to Gen. Z, and start planning for how you’ll attract these bright, energetic, creative workers into your workplace.