Generation Z Wants a Job. Are You Ready to Hire Them?

Studies show that the people just joining the workforce may present a different set of challenges and opportunities than their predecessors.

Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene

Katherine and Richard are Governing columnists with expertise in government management. Their website is greenebarrett.com.

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Move over, millennials. Generation Z -- sometimes called post-millennials, the iGeneration or plurals, to name a few -- is starting to enter the workforce. As they do, it would be wise for public-sector leaders to understand the differences they may bring to recruiting, hiring, training and managing.

The earliest of Generation Z was born in the mid-1990s. They don’t have solid memories of 9/11; they witnessed the Great Recession at a formative age -- many seeing the devastating impact it had on their parents; and they have lived immersed in social media and rapid-fire technological communication.

While generalizations about generations must be used with caution, studies show that Gen Zers may present a different set of challenges and opportunities than their predecessors.

One of the biggest differences -- possibly because they grew up during an economic downturn -- is that Gen Zers have a heightened desire for job security and lower expectations for quick advancement than millennials, says Jason Dorsey, co-founder and lead millennial and Gen Z researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics. "Their attitude is ‘I’ll take whatever job you have, just give me a chance."

That may also be because Gen Zers are less likely to have work experience than previous generations and thus may be more eager to get their foot in the door anywhere. This phenomenon, however, also applies to millennials. The number of 16- to 19-year-olds holding summer jobs has fluctuated with the economy, but before 1990, it almost never dipped below 46 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Since then, there has been a steady decline in the portion of employed teens, and the rate has hovered around 30 percent in the last few years.

Getting back to the differences between Gen Zers and millennials, though, a 2016 survey by the consulting firm BridgeWorks shows that the younger of the two generations is more likely to plan on working at the same place for at least a decade.

“They’re looking for stability,” says Hannah Ubl, research director at BridgeWorks.

But while most Gen Zers appear to appreciate the reliability of a steady paycheck, they also value flexibility. After all, they grew up with the ability to connect with friends, students and teachers at all hours of the day and night.

Cherrie Clark, a management professor at Vanderbilt University who has done extensive research on the topic, believes they might have more trouble with a 9 to 5 regimen and rules that prohibit personal breaks during the day. “That’s going to be a big challenge to government organizations."

But where there are challenges, there can be opportunities.

Generation Z wants to make a difference. According to a not-yet-published study from Dorsey's company, 72 percent say it's important that they have a positive impact on the world. That compares to 68 percent for millennials, 64 percent for Gen Xers and 63 percent for boomers.

“That plays very well with state and local government,” says Dorsey.

Even when it comes to technology, which this generation relies on more than any other, there are reasons to be encouraged. In the BridgeWorks survey, 74 percent of Gen Zers -- compared to just 50 percent of older millennials and 65 percent of younger millennials -- said their generation struggles with in-person communication. However, Ubl says her research also reveals that members of Generation Z tend to be self-aware of their flaws and are "open to training."

But their relationship with technology may change how they should be trained. Because they grew up more prone to Snapchatting than texting, they tend to be more visual learners and are extremely comfortable with self-directed online learning, says Dorsey.

Of course, generational characterizations also need to be considered within a much broader context. There are plenty of other factors that affect a person. Perhaps the most important advice to employers is from Vanderbilt's Clark:

“Every person wants to be considered as an individual. They don’t want to be lumped with a generation. There’s some Gen Zers who act like baby boomers and some baby boomers who act like Gen Zers.”

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this incorrectly spelled Hannah Ubl's name as Hannah Ubi.

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