Forget Gen Y: Are You Ready for Gen Z?

Businesses have been so hyperfocused on figuring out how to attract and develop the millennial workforce that many failed to notice an important new development. The next generation of workers has officially entered the workplace, and no one is paying attention to what they need.

Generation Z, also known as the iGeneration, was born after 1995, which means the eldest among them will start graduating from college in the next year and may already be part of the workforce or internship programs. In the United States, they represent roughly 23 million people, and while many of them are still in grade school, they will be entering the workforce in droves over the next decade. It’s time to get ready.

It’s easy to assume Gen Z workers will be just an extension of the millennials, but studies show that’s not really the case, said Ryan Kahn, CEO of Hired Group, a Los Angeles-based career placement firm that specializes in young professionals, and host of MTV’s 2010 docu-series, “Hired.” “There are definitely similarities, but in many ways this generation is the complete opposite of millennials.”

Build a Different Mindset
From a technology perspective, members of Gen Z are digital natives and mobile has been a part of their tech experience from the beginning. They grew up attached to mobile phones and tablets rather than computers, and they figured out at an early age that many answers or lessons they need to learn, whether it’s about makeup tips or calculus equations, can be found on a YouTube video.

They also grew up in very different economic circumstances. “This generation watched their parents lose their jobs and sell their homes, and that changed who they became,” Kahn said. “Millennials were dreamers, but Gen Z are realists.”

The different economic circumstances will extend to the hiring environment this generation will find itself in. Many millennials entered the workforce in the midst of the recession, which affected their ability to launch their careers and build job experience in the traditional way. That caused them to be more risk averse and less likely to job hop.

But that won’t be the case for Gen Z. They are entering a workforce that is sorely in need of their services and technical expertise. With hiring on the rise, and baby boomers retiring en masse, this generation will be in hot demand for many years to come. “That will shape their view of their careers for the rest of their lives,” said Angela Hills, the Chicago-based executive vice president and managing director of Cielo, a global recruitment process outsourcer. “They have a lot of options and little need to worry about landing a job.

All of these factors are having a direct effect on this generation’s career goals, ambition and expectations from employers, said Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory service for HR professionals, and co-author a 2014 study of millennial and Gen Z workers with Randstad, called “Managing Gen Y and Z in the Workplace.” “Gen Z are more entrepreneurial, and more interested in meaningful work than in money,” he said.

The report also shows these workers believe they can collaborate better when working from home, which is not surprising given their affinity for mobile. They are more motivated by opportunities for advancement than money, and they have a strong desire for managers to listen to their ideas and value their opinions. “They want to work in an innovative corporate culture where they feel like their contributions will mean something,” Schawbel said.

Recruiting Gen Z
For organizations getting ready to hire and develop this generation into their future corporate leaders, first leaders need to engage with them where they live — on their mobile devices — then educate them about job opportunities via those devices, said Anne Donovan, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. human capital transformation leader. “This generation is more advanced in how they search for information, so companies need to employ the most advanced search options available.”

They also need mobile-enabled career pages, and an active social media presence to engage with Gen Z talent communities. “They expect to hear about job openings via text, not email, and they want to apply for those jobs using their iPhones,” Hills said.

They also want their training and development tools, from information about career planning to online training modules, to be mobile-enabled so they can access them any time. “Gen Z is used to figuring things out on their own, and that should shape your communication and training strategies,” Hills said. “It’s about enabling them to learn.”

According to a March 2013 Glassdoor survey, 3 out of 5 job seekers say career advancement opportunities are among their top considerations when deciding where to take a job.

To hook these young workers, companies need to educate them about the development opportunities they offer, by including it in online job postings, in videos at career sites and through social media branding messages.

You Can't Swipe a Face

Gen Z is more educated than previous generations.

In 2014, The College Board reported that high school students took nearly double the number of advanced placement tests than Gen Y did in 2003, even though 40 percent of schools still don’t offer them.

Even so, Gen Z is still criticized for lacking skills because of its access to technology. Multiple viral YouTube videos show babies pressing images in print magazines, expecting them to respond to their touch or to flip with a swipe. Although most of it is probably because 1- and 2-year-olds don’t understand how reading works, it’s also indicative of the new generation’s digital proclivity.  

Outside of the classroom, Gen Z does look for education beyond tablets, phones and computers. A survey conducted by Millennial Branding and Internships.com in January 2014 found 77 percent of high school students are either extremely or very interested in volunteering to gain work experience and skills.

Companies offering internships to Gen Z take advantage of their tech-based upbringing. The same 2014 study found that most high school internships focus on social media marketing. Much of this has to do with the generation’s innate ability and desire to collaborate virtually with others.

“They’ve had at their fingertips the ability to connect in a geographically dispersed manner,” said Marci Paino, lead business architect in learning innovation for American Express Co. “It opens up a realm of possibilities no generation had before. I didn’t have the ability to talk with India to program an app to achieve XYZ when I was a kid.”

Just because these digital natives can connect and like collaborating with those across the globe doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to do the same with someone sitting across the table. Paino said Gen Z needs help learning soft skills like reading facial expressions and picking up on verbal queues.

But others say virtual communication develops those skills. Dan Merritts, executive vice president of product and marketing for video platform company newrow, said Gen Z can communicates via video conference and sharing technologies like Skype, Vine and Periscope.

Gen Z is looking for the same level of live connection with its peers as other generations, but it’s willing to do it through video.

“There’s a generational bias toward in-person communication, which is heralded as the most important communication vehicle,” Merritts said. “But with Gen Z, they can accomplish the same face-to-face with video that acts as a close substitute.”

Kate Everson is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com

Companies can also take advantage of recruiting tools like Glassdoor’s recently launched On-the-Job Training Finder search tool, which organizations use to highlight their development programs to prospective employees, and allow candidates to search for jobs based on learning opportunities.

These young workers have big plans for their futures, and Kahn said they want to know how their potential employers will help them achieve those goals. “They want you to map a career plan for them and show them what they will need to do to be successful.”

And do it quickly, as Gen Z has a notoriously short and scattered attention span, Kahn said. To capture their attention in job ads and interviews, he advised companies to talk about opportunities to work on exciting projects, the company’s commitment to the community and the development opportunities they can expect on the job.

“Workers in this generation see themselves as a brand, and they want to attach their brand to employers who have similar goals and values,” Kahn said. So promoting workplace values as a recruiting strategy is a valuable way to engage them.

Then, when companies find the right candidate, don’t dawdle. “There will be a lot of competition for the best and brightest of this group,” said Chris Bailey, vice president of recruitment for CML Recruitment in the Cayman Islands. “If you try to put them through a long drawn-out process, four rounds of interviews over several weeks, you will lose them to a company that is more dynamic and fast-paced.”

Training Gen Z — and Their Managers
Once they are onboard, this generation will want to work in a high-tech, fast-paced environment where they can get answers any feedback in real time, and see a clear path to personal success.

They want flexibility in where they work, and they want workplace tools that enable instant communication and access to answers, PricewaterhouseCooper’s Donovan said. “From figuring out expense reports to getting talent development feedback, they want information to be instant and in 200 characters or less.”

They will expect learning to be self-directed and experiential, and workplace technology should support that. “They grew up figuring things out on their own,” Hills said.

 Fully 41 percent of this generation said the best workplace technology will help them get answers to questions faster, and 25 percent want tools to help them develop skills, according to the aforementioned Randstad survey.

To accommodate this learning preference, companies should consider building more just-in-time learning segments that employees can access on an as-needed basis, including short videos featuring subject-matter experts from the company.

At global recruitment process outsourcing company Cielo, for example, employees are encouraged to create videos explaining corporate policies for things such as dress code and personal devices. “The videos are fun and more informative than handing employees a written policy,” Hills said. “The interns especially like it.”

They also prefer on-the-job learning and mentoring over traditional classroom training, Schawbel said. These kinds of real-world development opportunities will be critical to sustain Gen Z’s loyalty as opportunity for advancement is their top motivational factor for working hard and remaining with their employer.

“Gen Z care more about working with great people,” Schawbel said. “They want the opportunity to work on good projects, with people who will work hard to support them.”

If companies can figure out how to harness this fast-paced, tech-focused generation, they will benefit from their drive, passion and desire to get things done.

Though they also should be prepared for a few shortcomings, Kahn said. Most notable: Many lack basic job skills. Because the first wave of this generation grew up during the recession, there were a lot fewer opportunities for teenagers to hold entry-level jobs.

“As a result, they will be more inexperienced than previous generations,” Kahn said. Companies may need to factor that into their hiring criteria and early training programs. “They need to think about how to readjust their expectations to help these workers overcome that early learning curve.”

Companies may also need to rethink their management training programs to ensure Generation X, who likely will be in charge of this generation, know how to meet their development and mentoring needs. “Gen Z could be a good fit for Gen X, who are notorious for preferring to figure things out on their own,” Hills said.

However, these leaders may need guidance on how to support and mentor their younger protégés. While Gen Z likely won’t need as much handholding as millennials, they will expect a constant flow of feedback and context for their work.

They want to know why they are expected to do a job a certain way, they want feedback as they perform a task, and they will want to be thanked when they get the work done. “That will be a different way of managing for Gen X,” Donovan said.

Members of Gen Z may have their own unique mindset and approach to the workplace, but adapting to their needs won’t be as hard as it was for millennials, Donovan said.

“When millennials asked for things like flexible schedules, constant feedback and the ability to use personal devices in the workplace, it was all very foreign,” she said. “But we are used to it now, so this next generation should be a little easier to get used to.”