Gen Z enters the job market: A game changer for companies?

By Jens Dallmann, Millennial and Executive Dean at Stenden Thailand

Gen Z has rapidly gained attention among all sorts of businesses in recent years. How do we sell our products and services to this new, tech-savvy generation? How do we engage with a group of people that is described to have completely different sets of values and attitudes than the generations before? Interesting questions that have been much discussed mainly by marketers, but here’s another angle: What is the effect of Gen Z on the job market and how do we prepare ourselves as recruiters, managers and colleagues? Vital questions that a business should consider since these ‘post-millennials’ have recently entered the job market and will represent an increasing portion of the available talent in the next decade.

Generally defined as people born between the late 90’s and 2010, Gen Z is the ‘new kid on the block’ that is slowly but surely shifting focus away from “Millennials”, a.k.a.  Gen Y (born between 1980 and late 90’s), as the latest generation with spending power. After baby boomers (1940s and 50s) and Gen X (1960s and 70s), Gen Y was the first generation brought up heavily influenced by globalization and the emergence of the internet. Depending on the context, alternative terminologies can refer to Gen Z, amongst others, as iGen, centennials or Gen Wii. The most apt synonym, however, is arguably ‘Digital Natives’, capturing a key characteristic in a nutshell: Gen Z has grown up with technology at their fingertips!

Esther (21) and Thu (22): Students at Stenden Thailand who represent Gen Z entering the job market soon.

Being born into a world of technology equips this cohort of screenagers with a unique technical skillset and a natural adaption to new technological trends – often described as key challenges for previous generations. Nowadays, students have access to 3D printers, website builders, e-commerce platforms and a whole array of social media channels to create content. The internet is has made it easy for Gen Z to start their own business and sell their ideas to people from around the world and it’s no surprise that research has shown over 70% dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Just like Thu, a 22-year old student at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences who is dreaming of owning her own bakery business one day: “Nowadays, people can easily start-up small businesses such as an online clothing store. I also know many international students who study abroad and import products back to their home country to resell it.”

The flood of information and sources this generation is exposed to, has also led to a profound striving for authenticity. Used to filter through today’s ocean of targeted marketing campaigns, ‘fake news’ and personalised content, the striving for truth also comes with a greater freedom of expression and a strong value on diversity shown in an openness to understanding people with different backgrounds.

Despite some unique skills and advantages, the new generation also poses challenges to both employers and educators. This generation will choose a career of their own intrinsic motivation, not because they want to satisfy the demands of others. The traditional power dynamic where an employer leverages job stability, benefits and pay, might not be shared by Gen Z-ers. As an employer, stand for something meaningful and live by these values:

Gen Z is looking for a workplace that it feels connected to, if not, we’ll become the competitor!  In my future workplace, I highly value respect and appreciation and the work for my future employer should be of value and fulfilling for the whole team.” (Esther, 21).

The strong entrepreneurial spirit and aim to influence the world will require companies to give young employees flexibility and to foster autonomy in the workplace. Increased emphasis on ‘learning on the job’ and a culture where feedback is integral, not just from managers but also from peers, is seen as necessary in the work with Gen Z. Being a resource for learning rather than the mere controller of a process will become of increasing importance in managing people. The constant connectivity to the internet also requires a new way of communicating as Gen Z is showing much shorter attention spans and lower preference for in-person communication compared to older generations. Obviously, every generation has its sentiments against the other generation’s culture and values, but a better integration of new employees demands an understanding of the behaviours, motivations and needs of this new group of people and will be inevitable for the future success of organizations.

The need for flexibility on the one hand, and the new role of the ‘manager’ on the other, are also crucial developments affecting universities who are preparing Gen Z for the job market. Just like many other education providers, we at NHL Stenden have responded to the new requirements in the form of design-based education, giving students a playing ground for their own ideas and motivations while adding a ‘trial and error’ mentality to the traditional form of providing education.

And what’s next? If you think the Z label indicates an end to something, meet Generation Alpha. Starting with 2010 as a birth year (the year the first iPad was released), this upcoming generation is expected to enter the job market in the end of the 2020’s. Although typical traits of a generation can only be observed during early adulthood, researchers have already identified specific features of Gen Alpha. Influenced by the Gen Z climate activists, the Alphas are expected to focus their careers on ‘saving the planet’ and to be driven by their want to buy from and work for companies that are trying to do good in the world. They’ll also be the most diverse generation to-date, so not at all a bad starting point if you ask me. For more information on the impact of Gen Alpha on the job market though, I hope you read my article in the December edition of the 2029 Commerce magazine.

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