Gen Tech. Gen Wii. Net Gen. Digital Natives. Homeland Generation. Plurals. iGeneration. If these descriptions of the next generation of our workforce sound like a foreign language to you, you’ll want to pay close attention. Millennials are no longer “the next generation.”1 In fact, Generation Z has claimed the title as this next wave of individuals enters the workforce. Born between 1995 and 2010, Generation Z comprises 25 percent of the U.S. population. Although close in age to millennials, Generation Z is unique to its developmental environment. This generation also represents the engineering and construction (E&C) industry’s greatest chance to attract new talent to the construction workplace.
To reach this next generation, we need to know more about its individual members and the world they have experienced since birth. This article is an introduction to this next generation. Still, the best way to truly know what motivates an individual is to have the conversation – take an interest in learning more about the person and about what he or she believes in and values.
Who Are the Generation Z’ers?
Before discussing the recruitment (and retention) of Generation Z, you’ll need to understand the type of environment and key factors that define its realities. This generation grew up with 24/7 news of war and terrorism, and its childhoods and lives are chronicled on the internet. Generation Z watched its parents and communities struggle through the Great Recession, questioning the value of formal education at the expense of being bridled with incomprehensible student loan debt.
Instead of growing up with the original cell phones – often referred to as “flip phones” – Generation Z only knows touch-screens. They are more likely to be pragmatic and want to take action rather than watching events unfold as a bystander (e.g., the “Never Again” movement after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida).
Why does any of this matter? Simple: Because the experiences of the generation translate into the mentality that it brings to the workplace. For example, …
1. Generation Z’ers are the real digital natives: Although millennials have been targeted as a tech-savvy generation, Generation Z has had greater exposure at a younger age. This generation is astutely aware of its online presence and, as a result, has a much greater awareness of the need for privacy. Because of the digital vulnerability that it has experienced, Generation Z prefers the temporary over the permanent (e.g., Snapchat over Facebook).
— Recruiting and Retention Strategy: This group communicates differently than its millennial counterparts. Where the latter prefers text and emails to frequent calls, Generation Z wants to see you. This can happen face-to-face or via technology (e.g., via Facetime, Skype or Duo). When non-face-to-face communication is necessary, it should be short communication. If communicating on the job, a Facetime call might be followed up with a brief email to clarify next steps. A practical way to implement this in your recruiting processes is to conduct the initial phone screen as a face-to-face interaction via a video technology platform. Although communication preferences vary between millennials and Generation Z, personal interaction still trumps all digital settings2 when sharing feedback or learning – totally irrespective of generation.
2. Generation Z is pragmatic and competitive: This generation was directly impacted by the economic crash of the late 2000s. Many watched as parents and family dealt with layoffs, unemployment and financial woes. Instead of waiting until after a college education to jump into the workforce, Generation Z tends to experiment and look for opportunities to work harder – and sooner. LinkedIn lowered the age for a profile from 18 to 16 as of 2017, recognizing this generation’s aptitude for entrepreneurship and gaining experience at an earlier age.3 The asphalt paving industry, for example, can offer individuals a chance to build a future for themselves earlier (thus lowering their chances of experiencing similar financial stress).
— Recruiting and Retention Strategy: When it comes to Generation Z, companies should focus on recruiting and sharing information about their industries (and the opportunities that exist in those industries) earlier in their careers – think teenagers.
Lakeside Industries of Issaquah, Washington, starts even earlier. Local fourth graders in the Port Angeles community have taken field trips to the asphalt shop and the production plant and watched live paving demonstrations. For the past 12 years, teachers, parents and students heard the message that this industry provides careers. Several state asphalt pavement associations, including The Asphalt Paving Association of Indiana, have created interest by getting involved and developing opportunities for teens through high school organizations. If your recruiting efforts are aimed at college students, you’ve already alienated a big portion of the next generation and been knocked out of contention as a potential employer.
When identifying and creating opportunities for younger individuals, give them the responsibilities they are eager to embrace. Generation Z wants to work hard, and it wants freedom as well as straight talk about consequences (e.g., if assigned tasks aren’t completed properly). Mentoring and coaching opportunities are critical for retaining these individuals.
3. Diversity isn’t a “nice to have”; it’s a strong qualifier: Generation Z has grown up viewing differences in gender, sexuality and ethnicity across a wide spectrum. Its members see themselves and the world in which they live very differently from previous generations. This next generation values authenticity: whether in an individual, an organization or themselves. They aren’t looking for perfection, but rather the truth. And they want to be part of an organization that values this as well.
— Recruiting and Retention Strategy: Take a look at your culture and how you hire. Do you “photoshop” or create an image of your company or a job position that exaggerates the truth? Generation Z appreciates the bad with the good.
The Washington State AGC Education Foundation, Operating Engineers Local 612, Tucci & Sons and Lakeside Industries created an after-school program (Future Operators of WA) for high schoolers to explore heavy highway work. During the five-week program, the program leaders and students talk about the reality of the industry – night shifts, long hours – hand in hand with the pride of the work and ability to run heavy equipment.
Be forthcoming in interviews in assessing your company to applicants. Assess your leaders and employees. Does everyone look the same? Do you have diversity in ethnicity, gender and experience? If not, you may need to revise your processes to ensure that your company is fully embracing inclusivity. Otherwise, you may miss out on some of the best potential team members.
Our industry continues to battle talent and workforce shortages. Millennials represent the largest generation currently in the labor force4; however, Generation Z accounts for 61 million people in the U.S. – a population group that’s larger than the millennial generation. The opportunity for the asphalt paving industry cannot be squandered because we are unprepared to recruit these individuals. By understanding what experiences have shaped their views and what they most value, we can adjust our strategies to gain Generation Z’s attention.
1 Curiel, L. (2017). A Look into Gen Z. http://vimeo.com/243404678.
2 FMI Industry Survey (2015). Millennials in Construction: Learning to Engage a New Workforce.
3 LinkedIn (2018). User Agreement https://www.linkedin.com/legal/user-agreement?src=liother&veh= www.linkedin.com#introduction.
4 Fry, Richard (2018). Pew Research Center: Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force.