GenZ1-1.jpg

Move over, Millennials. Your younger brothers and sisters are becoming a force to be reckoned with in their workplaces and their communities.

Generation Z, which includes people born between 1995 and 2012 or so, is nearly as large as the Millennial cohort and starting to differentiate itself. In 2018, 42 percent of Gen Zers ages 17-23 were already in the workforce.

“We are going to be relying on them more and more,” said Cecilia Harry, chief economic development officer at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. 

“Employers absolutely had to adapt their organizations and their talent and hiring strategies in order to attract Millennials,” Harry said, “and it’s going to be the exact same thing with Gen Z. 

“It’s up to employers to understand how they need to adapt,” she said. “If companies are not reviewing how they organize, hire and retain, and develop talent in light of Gen Z and their behavior patterns and decision-making patterns, they’re already behind the eight ball.”

WHO ARE THEY?

Generation Zers share some characteristics with Millennials but are veering off in their own directions, said generational researcher Scott VanNess, instructor of operations management at the UCCS College of Business. 

VanNess cautions that it’s easy to overcharacterize any generation, but some Gen Z trends are emerging.

Like Millennials, Gen Zers want to be engaged in meaningful activity, but they also are more concerned with financial security.

“We’re finding that they’re more thrifty with their money than the previous generation,” VanNess said. “There is an emphasis on saving and bargain-hunting.”

Members of Gen Z are questioning the value of an expensive college education and are more likely to go to a trade school versus a four-year college than Millennials were.

“They are looking at the debt that they’re going to carry when they come out of school,” VanNess said. Many prefer quicker pathways into the workplace or are looking to start their own businesses.

Colleges and universities are beginning to see the effects of that, he said. At UCCS and many other learning institutions, enrollment is down.

Generation Z is the first digital native group — they have been connected their whole lives. Perhaps the defining factor is that their smartphones are like appendages.

They spend a fraction of the time on computers compared with previous generations but far more time on mobile devices — an average of five or more hours per day, according to the Center for Generational Kinetics.

They are emotionally connected to their phones and often more comfortable with on-screen interactions through social media and video than face-to-face meetings.

Marketers will need to be cognizant that Gen Zers are greatly concerned about sustainability — a value they’ve grown up with. 

They’re driving purchases of things like electric cars and are willing to pay up to 5 percent more for products that are sustainable.

“From a consumer standpoint, they’re less trusting than their older brothers and sisters,” VanNess said. “They rely a lot on product reviews, especially from people and groups that they know and trust.”

Two-thirds of Gen Z respondents to a 2018 Center for Generational Kinetics survey said they would read at least three product reviews before buying something, and 16 percent said they read nine or more reviews.

“That’s higher than the other generations,” VanNess said.

GEN Z JOB MARKET

Trends about what Gen Zers want in a workplace are still taking shape, VanNess said, but it’s clear that they want to know they are making positive contributions.

“Money is important, but it’s not the most important thing,” he said. “They want to feel good about their employment.”

Millennials brought that value to job-seeking, but Gen Zers are even more interested in seeing that their jobs are helping to bring positive change to their communities.

“They expect companies to be good global stewards of resources and solving big issues that matter [to them], related to the environment, global climate and hunger,” Harry said. “So employers really need to think about what they’re doing in that space to demonstrate to this upcoming workforce that they care about leaving the world in a better place than they found it and what they’re doing to actually get there.”

Gen Zers are looking at salaries and traditional benefits like health care, but they also may want flexible schedules and more time off.

“They might pick an employer that offers more time off over one who would pay more but offer less time off,” VanNess said. 

Career mobility also is important to Gen Z, said Megan Nicklaus, director of the Colorado College Career Center.

“Those trying to enter the job market are seeking jobs where openings and opportunities are, but they’re going to look for how they can grow and develop within that job,” Nicklaus said. “I think they’ll move as new opportunities emerge.”

GEN Z IN THE WORKPLACE

Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation that America has ever known.

“They like being on a diverse team and being in a culture where diversity and inclusion is a priority,” Harry said. “So if employers are not going beyond federal expectations and really digging into how they move away from homogenous teams, that’s going to be a big challenge when it comes to hiring Gen Z. And the sooner the business community gets behind that, the sooner they’ll see the fruits of that in their hiring efforts and future productivity for the company.”

Another marked characteristic of Gen Z adults (18 and older) is that 58 percent of them report being depressed or sad, and 55 percent say they lack interest, motivation or energy, according to a 2018 study by the American Psychological Association.

“That is something that they’re going to look for from an employer, in terms of minimizing health care costs, especially mental health,” VanNess said.

It’s too soon to say what effect the shutdowns and remote work during COVID-19 are going to have on Gen Zers, but VanNess said they appear to be taking things harder than other generations.

“I really encourage employers to try to bring people back to work when they can, to get them reintroduced,” he said. They may need help with depression issues when they return to workplaces, because they have not had the opportunity to work through crises.

Employers will need to consider how they can keep their Gen Z workforce engaged and maximize their performance, Nicklaus said.

It will help that Gen Zers are more pragmatic than the idealistic Millennials — a characteristic that employers can tap.

GEN Z IN THE ECONOMY

Generation Z is filling the talent pipeline for the future, said Bob Cope, economic development officer for the city of Colorado Springs.

“If we have a quality, diversified workforce 10 years from now — and 10 years will come pretty quickly — the Gen Z population can be very important in filling those positions at every level,” Cope said.

Many of the same characteristics that are luring Millennials to the Pikes Peak region are also attracting Gen Z — quality of life, access to outdoor amenities, a strong and resilient economy and opportunities along the spectrum from entry-level jobs to highly skilled, professional positions.

“All of that comes without the high cost and congestion of big cities,” Cope  said. “So I think we’re really an ideal destination for Gen Z.”

To continue attracting a young, well-educated workforce, “the most important thing you can do is building a great city, a cool city, and keep it that way,” he said. “Then you have that high-quality workforce and then you will attract the great employers that are seeking out that workforce.”

With prospects such as the expansion of Amazon to additional facilities in the area, there will be more well-paying, entry-level jobs for young workers. Cope also expects Gen Z workers to fill many of the tech jobs that will continue to be in high demand.

“There is so much being done to create different pathways to careers,” Cope said. “A programmer or a coder, maybe they just need a boot camp — these kids have been doing this anyway for a long time. They can get a certification in a short period of time and start at a pretty high salary.”

THE FUTURE OF GEN Z

The Pikes Peak Business & Education Alliance is helping schools create those pathways for students toward careers that suit them.

“We are bringing the world of work into our school systems in a really meaningful way,” Program Director Bob Gemignani said. “We’re accelerating career exploration and training to middle school and high school to help these kids advance where they see themselves fitting in the world.”

The alliance works with 13 public school districts and several charter schools to help students explore their interests and connects them with nearly 400 businesses through a website that is modeled after Indeed.com.

Launched in September 2019, the program created 5,500 student interactions in its first year of operation. The pandemic lowered the expectations of more than tripling that number, but this year, Gemignani said he expects to serve about 2,000 students.

The alliance aims to educate both students and their parents about the wide variety of jobs that are available for high school graduates.

“We see pretty solid interest in tech fields, where a lot of the jobs are; we see interest in engineering, environmental science, the health sciences, the social sciences,” Gemignani said. But he’s also seeing a disturbing trend: a lack of engagement with skilled crafts and trades. 

“These are some great jobs, and they’ll never ship those jobs overseas,” he said. But research has shown that “parents and kids, their concept of jobs is stuck in the year 2000. 

“The average parent is unable to think outside of a specific set of jobs with the same kind of inference that you need to get a college degree to be successful,” he said. “But a college degree is not the ticket to a good future, the way it perhaps was 20, 30 or 40 years ago.”

That’s why the alliance is pushing out information about these occupations to parents as well as students.

“Our mission is to connect students’ talents, interests and aptitudes to the world of work,” Gemignani said. “I really believe that if young people can connect their talents, interests and aptitudes to what they want to do for work, they’re going to be happier and more productive.”

Reporter

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Business Journal in 2017.