Generation Z – those born after 1995 –are starting to enter the workforce at pace. Growing up with ubiquitous connectivity and evolving mobile technology has shaped Gen Z’s priorities for the workplace. 91% of this group say that technological sophistication impacts their interest in working at a company. This is hardly surprising, as they are now often described as the “ultimate technology natives”. Businesses need to not only deploy the technology that this new generation craves, but shout that capability from the rooftops, if they are to recruit the talent they need to succeed.
SMEs in particular – accounting for 99.9% of businesses and 60% of the workforce in the UK private sector – will become increasingly dependant on this demographic to drive growth. They are the latest group to enter the workforce, but also hold many skills and qualities – creativity and innovation the most highly prized – that will be important to these agile organisations. But competition for this new talent pool is fierce and this highly skilled younger generation places huge demands on their prospective employers.
Agile tech and working practices
Much of the discussion when millennials joined the workforce, positioned them as being “tech-savvy”. With Gen Z, this goes much further. We now have the first generation born into a world of social media, online gaming, and a smartphone in every pocket. Snapchat; Instagram; WhatsApp; even more so than the millennial generation (who’s key influences included Myspace and Facebook), Gen Z expect, receive and digest information instantly.
This demand doesn’t change when they walk into their place of work. Gen Z employees want the latest technology at their fingertips and to be just as connected – in the technology sense – at work as they are in their day-to-day lives. This manifests itself in several guises. Gen Z have always had access to any information or contact, from any location in the world – provided there is 4G or wireless. Increasingly, the same can be said for work – younger generations want the flexibility to be able to work from anywhere in a connected and agile way. Businesses need to make sure that they have the technology in place to facilitate this, as well as exploring more cultural initiatives, like the design of “third spaces” that encourage interactions outside of any rigid departmental boundaries or formalised meeting rooms.
Harnessing the potential of Gen Z
Their highly networked and tech-driven upbringing has fostered a more entrepreneurial generation in Gen Z. In fact, 72% want to start a business of their own in the future. SMEs can harness that motivated and strategic outlook within their organisation if they give them a chance. Where possible, promote the freedom to be autonomous while still having the appropriate checks and balances needed. Flattening organisational charts and concepts of hierarchy – as well as providing constant opportunities to learn and develop – will all be important to attracting Gen Z. Many organisations are looking into concepts like “scrums” – agile breakout groups and teams – rather than rigid hierarchies.
This equally feeds into the work itself. When it comes to Gen Z, it’s not just about how they work, but what the work actually is. Using technology has placed a premium on their key skills like creativity, innovative thinking and the ability to understand and process information quickly. Organisations that can use technology effectively, automating laborious tasks like data entry, will better attract and unleash the potential of this new generation in the workforce.
Learning and development
Having grown up during the 2008 recession, Gen Z are also naturally more pragmatic than their millennial predecessors, particularly appreciating the value and efficiencies that technology brings to the workplace. The influence of these more risk-averse times and familiarity with the rise of new technologies, has also made Gen Z much more conscious of the need to learn new skills to stay relevant and compete.
Gen Z have grown up with the world’s largest ever on-demand how-to video library – YouTube. With that bank of learning just a few clicks away in their personal lives, this new section of the labour force wants equally innovative solutions to appease that thirst for knowledge and development. Organisations are responding. The NHS, for example, has begun to train their doctors and nurses with the help of virtual realities. Instead of learning their trade in real-life operations and emergencies, VR technology enables them to acquire and train their skills safely. While not applicable to every business, it does highlight the need for organisations to better embrace new technologies and change workforce practices, when looking to attract and engage younger generations.
SME leaders must ensure that they have the technology and organisational flexibility that this new Gen Z workforce craves – and it’s not just about having an iPad on every desk. They want to be able to work from anywhere with agility and access to instant information, while being given the freedom to think creatively, learn and have a real impact on the organisation. Having the right business technology in place sits at the heart of delivering on this and organisations need to take heed of those demands if they are to attract and retain Gen Z talent. In fact, that technology capability is so important, it should sit on top of every job spec.