It's Not Too Early to Start Thinking About Generation Z... Because They Are Thinking About You

As employers continue to improve their workplace environments, benefits, and perks to attract and retain millennials, who now comprise about two-thirds of the global workforce, it's time for them to consider switching gears and turn more of their attention to the next generation that will soon take the workplace by storm - Generation Z.

Born in the mid/late 1990's and arguably the most technologically conversant, Gen Z will be the next major generation of talent to enter and influence the workforce. With the oldest members of this cohort just about to enter college this fall, everyone, me included, is racing to understand them while they pursue their college education. In fact, this past summer I conducted a series of town halls on college campuses across the country to better understand the wants and needs of Gen Z. From learning about their career aspirations to the types of companies they want to work for, I was interested in how they related to, and differed from, their Millennial counterparts.

One student from DePaul University particularly stuck out to me. He said, "I have watched my parents work hard every day doing jobs they don't like. Watching this as I grew up made me realize I want a job that makes me feel fulfilled." Another student from Santa Clara University shared that sentiment, "I think my generation is more concerned with innovation and creativity, while my parent's generation was more focused on getting as far as you can in a business. I believe that your position in a job should not be the sole indicator of your success."

Driven by passion and purpose? You bet. But we also learned that Gen Z is confident, assertive and ready to work hard. From where they want to intern, to what city they ultimately want to land their first job -- many of them have already envisioned their career trajectory. They also value flexibility, progressive benefits and opportunities to grow. Despite crushing student loans and fierce competition--they are a powerful force and, more importantly, a powerful resource, for employers who can evolve in the right way to tap into it.

Surprisingly, what I heard on campuses matched recent EY research that we conducted this past summer. As part of our Global generations 3.0 study, which looked at trust levels in the workforce, we surveyed 3,200 Gen Zers (ages 16-18) across 8 countries: US, UK, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, India and Germany; to learn about what factors might impact their trust in a future employer.

Interestingly, when thinking about a future employer, Gen Z cared most about opportunities to learn and advance, as well as equal pay and promotion. They also would consider an employer who encourages them to manage their work-life responsibilities and where and when they work. And lucky for us, when they are ready to enter their workforce, half of Gen Zers said they want to work for a large company.

This generation is not shy to say what they want in an employer and it's up to us to start listening and thinking about how we recruit them in the next five years. To best engage Gen Z, employers and recruiters should consider the following:

  • Provide them with purpose: At EY, we drive our recruiting efforts through programs and outreach approaches that are aimed at setting ourselves apart from other companies. Since Gen Z values "purpose" and a measurable impact, it's critical that companies provide its people with opportunities to collaborate and do good in addition to doing well.
  • Total rewards need to reflect what Gen Z values: No longer driven by long-term benefits, companies should revamp their recruiting platform to ensure they are offering the right benefits and programs. Modern benefits for Gen Z could include corporate responsibility sabbaticals, flexibility in someone's work schedule, equitable opportunities for men and women to advance, student loan refinancing options and progressive parental leave policies.
  • Personalization: From shopping online to selecting classes or personalizing their devices and apps, Gen Z will expect a custom-tailored recruiting experience--and it's our job to give it to them. Consider sharing the array of opportunities available within your company with this cohort, which can help them determine what they might want to consider down the road. Rather than pigeon-holing them into one area right out of the gate, you can build better practitioners with a wider breadth of experiences before giving them the opportunity to choose the work that best aligns with their skills and interests.

Exploring new recruiting strategies today will give companies the edge they need to attract and retain Gen Z later on. Millennials forced companies to adapt their recruiting and workplace benefits; Gen Z will force companies to completely evolve.

By: Dan Black, EY Americas Recruiting Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanBlack_EY.