Move Over Millennials and Get Ready for Generation Z

What You Need to Know About the Next Generation of Top Talent

 By Lori Johnston 

Congratulations, you’ve figured out the millennials! Perhaps your firm has adapted workspaces for more collaboration, offered flexibility in scheduling or added paid time off for volunteering to your benefits. But just when you thought you had the desires and demands of millennials figured out, a new, larger generation is entering the workforce…

The first members of Generation Z (Gen Z) – defined as those born after 1995 – graduated from college this year. They’re ready to start their careers, seeking internships and full-time jobs. But lumping Gen Z in with millennials without understanding this generation’s career motivations and aspirations could harm your recruitment and retention of young talent to sustain your firm – prolonging the worker shortage.

“They’re going to be such a large portion of the workforce that you can’t ignore them,” says Andy Decker, the Georgia-based Regional President for Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Those born between 1990 and 1999 will make up more than 20 percent of the workforce in five years, according to data from Robert Half. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement daily, according to the Pew Research Center, leaving a loss of talent across most sectors, including engineering, architecture and construction.

Larger than the millennial generation by about a million, Gen Z is ready to jump in. Nearly half (42 percent) of the mostly Gen Z respondents to the 2017 Career Interest Survey see themselves pursuing career paths in science, technology or engineering. Specifically, 13 percent of respondents say engineering is their intended or current undergraduate major, making it in the top five career paths in the survey, which was conducted by Atlanta-based National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) in partnership with Hanover Research.


 While some employers have “millennial fatigue,” that’s not fair to Gen Z, says David Stillman, author of the 2017 book, Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace (HarperCollins). “Gen Z is entering the workforce, and we’re already tired of them,” he says, describing some companies’ mindsets. “Every generation has its own events and conditions that shapes them, that results in a unique generational personality.”

Millennials were raised with mantras like, “If we pitch in together, we can all be winners” and “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” Gen Z – which has 72.8 million members – was raised to believe in winners and losers, Stillman says. As a result, they’re a competitive generation. The national research in Gen Z @ Work shows that 79 percent of Gen Z believes that, “If you want it done right, then do it yourself.”

If your firm’s recruiting materials or websites emphasize collaboration and teamwork, Stillman recommends tweaking messaging for this new generation. Emphasizing your competitive culture, creating an environment where the best rise to the top and encouraging applicants to “come show us what you can do,” could all resonate with Gen Z.

The differences between workers who may only have a couple of years between them are important to your corporate culture. Employers could see clashes between millennials who want to collaborate as a team, compared to members of Gen Z who want to complete tasks themselves, Stillman says. Even your current workplace setup may need to be adjusted to better appeal to Gen Z preferences. Only eight percent of this generation say they like open office concepts, according to Gen Z @ Work, and 50 percent prefer their own office. The group interview may also be a turnoff, Stillman adds.

Don’t just chalk up those behaviors to being the “iGeneration.” Instead, Stillman points out that Gen Z and millennials came of age during different times in our economic history. Millennials saw economic prosperity, and their baby boomer parents told them they could be anything they wanted to be. Gen Z, however, witnessed the recession and saw their parents’ net worth fall. That begets Gen Z’s survivor mentality and competitive nature.

In fact, 77 percent of Gen Z anticipates working harder than previous generations to have a satisfying and fulfilling career, according to Robert Half research. “Where many people just sort of make that assumption that there’s entitlement or they don’t work as hard, honestly Generation Z is very different,” Decker says. “They saw parents losing jobs; they saw grandparents going to back to work. They saw people really struggling.”

It’s possible that five generations now collide in the workplace – the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (millennials) and Gen Z. All five generations bring important and diverse knowledge and skill sets to the table and should have opportunities to work together, says Jonathan M.E. Jones, a 2013 University of Georgia graduate who works as a Fermentation Improvement Engineer for Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis, Ind.

As he sees Gen Z filling internships and co-op jobs, he recognizes that understanding what each generation and group of employees needs is crucial. “If we are able to tap into those resources, we are able to solve more problems,” he says.


Continue reading this article in the September/October 2017 issue of Engineering Georgia by clicking here.