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What does Generation Z want in an employer?

CSE students weigh in on generational trends and what they’d like to see in an employer after graduation

Move over Milliennials. Generation Z is entering the workplace. The ambitious, career-ready Generation Z, whose oldest members will graduate from college this year, are gearing up to make their debut in the workplace…and their numbers are big.

Although the age range of Generation Z is still debated, the Pew Research Center designates its members as those born after 1997. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Generation Z numbered 68 million as of 2017, which is larger than the Millennial or Baby Boomer populations.

And this number is only growing. A Bloomberg analysis recently reported that Generation Z will comprise 32 percent of the global population by 2019.

Raised in the digital age, these young people saw everything from the earliest iPhone to financial recession, but they’re not just financially aware and glued to screens. They’re socially conscious, diverse, and willing to work hard to achieve their goals. According to a Deloitte annual survey of young people, Gen Zers are generally happier and more self-aware than Millennials.

So, now that this hard-working generation is entering the workforce and ready to make their mark on the world, what are these so-called Gen Zers looking for in employers?

An open, collaborative work environment

Cube farms, be no more. Although the open office concept is something many companies embraced after the turn of the Millennial, Gen Zers value the idea of collaboration just as much.

In a survey of Gen Zers conducted by international staffing company Robert Half, 74 percent of participants said they would prefer to interact face-to-face with colleagues.

“I prefer shared offices because it allows me to get to know my co-workers,” said Holly Newton, a University of Minnesota senior majoring in aerospace engineering and mechanics. “Engineering requires a lot of teamwork too, so it’s easier to consult people if you work in the same office space.”

Junior industrial and systems engineering major Emma Ehling agrees. She said the importance of open communication with higher-ups is critical to the company's success.

“Open floor plans with a policy of frequent and informal communication between employees is something I value,” Ehling said. “The company where I currently work encourages questions and conversations between all employees regardless of title, and this has helped me get up to speed without feeling like a burden.”

Learning and development opportunities

Many Gen Zers also are attracted to companies that offer continuing education opportunities.

“I believe that we should never stop learning, even after graduating from school,” said Ben Niemiera, a University of Minnesota junior studying biomedical engineering. “A company that invests in their workforce by encouraging their employees to learn and develop new skills is certainly something that would make that company more attractive to me.”

Ehling agrees. “In my field, an M.B.A. or a one- or two-year master’s program is fairly common after a few years of working full time,” Ehling added. “Company support of individual continuous learning shows me that the company wants to improve as a whole, and that’s something I want to be a part of in my career.”

Plus, growth opportunities don’t end with education and promotion. Exploring diverse and multidisciplinary career options is something this young generation wants, according to a Deloitte report on Generation Z.

Ehling said experiencing life outside of Minnesota or working at a company with locations around the country would benefit her both personally and professionally.

“Employer support in moving locations would be helpful,” Ehling said. “I imagine myself leaving to experience working in a different industry or state. If I don’t try various opportunities, how will I know what I’m the most passionate about?”

Flexible training structure

Gen Zers may have grown up teaching themselves how to navigate the Internet or fix bugs on their many digital devices, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want mentorship. A 2018 Human Resource Executive article explains that Generation Z operates on “observing and doing” and prefers to have “learning guides” instead of formal trainers.

“A mentorship structure where a more experienced employee helps train and guide me as I adjust to the job would be great,” Newton said. “It allows me an opportunity to learn from someone experienced and gives me someone to turn to for questions.”

Niemiera appreciates the integration of work and training, instead of going through one lump of training all at once. He also said feedback is absolutely essential.

“I personally learn best hands-on, so I would prefer a training structure that pairs on-the-job training with the necessary documentation training,” Niemiera said. “I would appreciate a consistent feedback loop that would allow me to see what I was doing right and wrong so I could ensure that I would be learning best practices.”

A company that strives to make a positive impact and values its employees

Although internal benefits like training and growth opportunities remain a common topic among discussions about hiring Generation Z, equally as important is the impact the company has on the community. Making a positive impact was the third most cited priority when searching for a job among Gen Zers, according to the Robert Half survey.

“I'd like to work for a company that is contributing to society in a benevolent and sustainable way,” Ehling said. “Communication, continuous improvement, and integrity are a few values I would like to see.”

How a company treats others might matter to Generation Z, but so does the way a company treats its own. Among sustainable environmental practices and ethical values, the students said they would like to see a company that invests in its employees.

“I am most attracted to employers who support continued learning and improvement as well as a good work-life balance,” Newton said. “Finding a balance between work and life helps a person stay healthy and happy in all areas of their life.”

“I'd like to work for a company that values its employees,” Niemiera said. “A company that fosters an accepting and friendly culture ultimately makes working there more enjoyable and increases productivity.”

After all, increasing productivity is just what any career hopeful aims to do, and the Gen Zers are looking for companies that will help them achieve their full potential and give them a place where they belong.

And one more thing, don’t mistake them for Millennials.

Story by Olivia Hultgren