Generation Z enters the workforce Generational and technological challenges in entry-level jobs
The Gen Z workforce is bringing new experience -- and new expectations -- as they enter the job market. Carolyn O’Boyle talks about technology advancements being a bane or a boon for these entry-level Gen Zers and the critical cultural transition required when handling the new kids on the block.
My name is Gary Scott. I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I graduated college in 1995 with a B.S. in English. My plan was to teach high school. After graduation, I worked several different jobs including, substitute teaching and working full time as a maintenance assistant at Bledsoe Creek State Park in Gallatin, Tennessee. The state park was the best job. A routine day at Bledsoe Creek included cleaning three bath houses top to bottom—which teaches you a lot about humanity and the many uses for bleach.
My name is Valerie Cooper and my first job after college was for the advertising production department of a large electrical supply distributor. I basically ran a small printing press, printing price sheets. I also did a lot of other print shop duties. I learned how to make pads using padding compound and something called chipboard that you put between every 25 sheets of paper. I did a little bit of paste up, but we did have an in-house artist who took those, mostly more interesting duties, and I learned how to use a giant machine that made holes and paper and all kinds of stuff. It was mostly boring. It could be very frustrating as well when the printing press stuck.
My name is Dusti Worley. My first job out of college in 1998 was as a technical writer and editor. Where I envisioned this job going, was that I would be writing the manual that I would always have wanted to have as a non-technical software user. What I really had to do was just fix other people’s grammar and word choice mistakes, and make a lot of copies.
TANYA OTT: I’m Tanya Ott and this is the Press Room, Deloitte Insight’s podcast on some of today’s most pressing business issues. I bet most of us have stories about our first entry-level job.
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: I think the stereotypes are very repetitive work. You always see or hear stories of people making copies or working under very strict supervision. You know—I need you to write this very specific report or I need you to build this [spreadsheet]. It was a little rote, a little bit more routine than what you see today.
TANYA OTT: Carolyn O’Boyle would know. She leads Deloitte’s Talent Strategy and Innovation Group. And lately she’s been thinking a lot about Generation Z—those people born in the late 90s and early 2000s. They’re starting to enter the workforce and it’s a different world for them.
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: I think [the workplace is] asking a lot more from our entry-level workers. We’re asking them to display much more critical thinking, much higher degrees of judgment, work in less of a supervised manner, and really start to draw on their own experiences, as well as content knowledge that they have. In some cases, that’s [difficult], because at the end of the day, we’re talking about people with very little practical experience.
TANYA OTT: Obviously, the most recent generation that we’ve seen come into the workforce are the Millennials. And there are some broad-stroke stereotypes about Millennials that [may be] backed up by some facts. I mean, they’re very interested in social responsibility.1 They are perhaps less loyal to their employers than previous generations.2 What are the differences that you’re seeing between a Millennial entry-level worker versus a Gen Z entry-level worker?
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: It is interesting because there’s a lot of similarities in what the Millennials and Gen Zs are looking for, but the way they manifest itself might be different. I’ll just key in on one thing that you just said about Millennials [maybe] having less loyalty.3 That’s still going to be present with Gen Z, but there the focus is on looking for a diversity of experiences. It’s not that they don’t want to be tied down to a single organization, which is really what drives that trend for Millennials.
On the flipside, Gen Z is actually going to have much more of a focus on job security. But they still do want that diversity of experience and so the interesting tactic that some companies can take is thinking really about: How do we give these professionals a diversity of experience? That’s one example where the differences between Millennials and Gen Z are going to play out.
There are some other similarities in terms of the emerging role that technology is playing in the personal lives of the generations. The Millennials are probably the first “always on” generation, but that [seems to have] been taken up to a new level with Gen Z. These professionals have had their personal devices for their entire lives. They have defaulted to some of these communication mechanisms, whether it’s texting or emojis or all of those other things that other generations may not do as frequently, and so that’s influenced the way they communicate and their ability to form relationships with one another.
TANYA OTT: I want to get to the technology in a minute because I think that’s really interesting, but first I want to ask you, “Are entry-level jobs today designed for this future of work for Gen Zers and beyond?”
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: As they’re currently constructed, I’d say [mostly] no. There are some opportunities that organizations have to rethink those entry-level jobs and, importantly, what they need to do to surround Generation Z with the tools and the structure so that these workers can be successful. One of the most interesting challenges for this generation is how do they learn from people in their own organization.
There’s this notion that previously our entry-level workers [had more opportunities to observe more senior-level practitioners. They observed them both doing tasks, but also managing relationships, and they absorbed all of that tacit knowledge through working alongside other people. If that’s happening to a lesser extent or if it’s happening in a much more compressed time, [organizations could be] actually sacrificing some of the learning that those entry-level workers get. So how do you create new mechanisms for sharing that tacit knowledge, for teaching these entry-level workers all of the benefits of experience that other people have?
There are some really interesting examples from other fields. I’m obviously most focused on the professional services industry, but if you think about doctors—the field of medicine has some really interesting places where reflection and learning from others is still very valued. In post-surgery conferences, for example, it’s an opportunity to explore what happened, why an outcome happened, and what the group could collectively learn from it. That’s an example of something that any field could adopt.
TANYA OTT: Yeah. It has me thinking about things that I observed when I first came into the workforce 25 or so years [ago] versus what people who work in my department now might see. And in my department, now we’re so reliant on communication tools, that we often take conversations that might have happened publicly in front of lots of people to a very private space in a direct message. That doesn’t allow someone who’s watching to see how a manager handles something, even if it’s something that’s not highly sensitive.
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: I completely agree. I would also say the move to more virtual work [seems to have] compromised that as well. I think about when I started my career in consulting and one of the biggest elements on that team was the team room, where we were all sitting together in the same room and we were overhearing other conversations. You had an opportunity to join in or even just listen. That was a tremendous learning opportunity as well.
TANYA OTT: So how are things like emerging technologies—let’s say automation or artificial intelligence or people working increasingly more remotely—what is that going to mean for the entry-level employee who is a Gen Z?
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: We talked earlier about how entry-level jobs used to be fairly routine. What we’re seeing is that automation [could] actually take up that routine work. Think about a traditional analyst role. Now, all of a sudden, your entry-level worker [may be] put in a position where they need to be running the model and drawing the insight. We’re relying upon them to do much higher cognitive tasks very early in their career. [It’s possible that] they are going to suffer because they’re not doing some of those early-stage activities. And I speak from experience. Working with datasets and cleaning the data gives you an understanding of what that data looks like, and it typically prompts you to start asking questions that you might not otherwise have asked. That’s just an example with analysis.
If you think about other types of activities where people are doing research or writing reports, to the extent that natural language processing or even machine learning is going to start overtaking some of those activities, you [could be] missing out on opportunities for Gen Z to be reading and learning and thinking. You’re just putting them in a position where now they [could] need to start delivering insights or connecting content to other parts of the business or other content areas and they may not have the depth of time thinking in those areas to be successful.
TANYA OTT: This provides a challenge for those folks working in HR to look at the way entry-level work is structured and executed in their organizations. But on the flip side of challenge, that means there’s an opportunity. What are the opportunities you see?
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: Organizations who get this right [could] both be the most attractive employers for this next generation of workers, [and could also] also secure a longer talent pipeline for their future success. The entry-level job used to be that pipeline for future talent, for the future leaders of an organization. To the extent that you are doing a much better job of capturing the best talent and then putting them through the set of experiences that they need to fully grow and develop, your long-term success [could] to be much higher. There’s value for both or opportunity for both from the workers’ perspective, as well as from an organization’s perspective.
TANYA OTT: So how do they get from here to there?
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: The opportunities for organizations exist across the entire spectrum of the talent life cycle. If you think about the first step of hiring the next generation of workers, there’s a couple of things that we should do. First, reflect on the fact that the types of skills that we need to be searching for are probably different than they’ve been in the past.
TANYA OTT: In what way?
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: We have moved to a model where we are very focused on technical skills, and I don’t mean that just from a technology perspective, but that we’re looking for very hard, specific skills that we’re [often] testing people on. If you think about putting entry-level workers in a position where they need to be a little bit more agile early in their career, focused on higher order cognitive skills earlier in their career, those are probably the things that you [would] want to be testing for in the process and making sure that you’ve got the right raw material to then develop through your process.
[The] skill set that you want to look for is a bit different. Then you probably also want to pay more attention to the communication skills of your future employees and making sure that people feel comfortable in all sorts of communication modes. And then the process by which you need to test for those skills is probably different than what we’re seeing today.
A lot of organizations typically use behavioral interviews—you know, “Tell me about a time when.” What we probably want to move toward is more experiential interviews where we’re actually giving people problems to solve, seeing the way they solve those problems, or even thinking about group problem solving.
One of the things that we’ve done at Deloitte is these case competitions or hackathons as a way to expose ourselves to talent. And that becomes one of the data points that we use in the recruiting process. It just gives you a chance to see people in action, [often] in a much deeper way than sitting across the table from somebody for 45 minutes.
TANYA OTT: Any final thoughts on things that you think businesses that are looking seriously at this and HR professionals who are looking seriously at this should consider? You know, steps they should consider taking or things they should consider when going through this process of reimagining what an entry-level job looks like?
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: I talked about recruiting, but the development and deployment aspects of the HR life cycle are critical. We talked a little bit about creating opportunities to pass down tacit knowledge. Organizations really [should] look at how that can become a valuable way of doing informal learning and really amping up the informal, on-the-job development process. What that’s [probably] going to require is not necessarily more programs, but [possibly] a cultural transition so that leaders and more experienced professionals understand that that’s part of their job, to share knowledge, and to teach, and to answer questions, so that they can be a part of that process.
Companies [should] really be creative in thinking about the set of experiences that they want their entry-level workers to have. How do they rotate people through different roles, different assignments, either across their own businesses or even with ecosystem partners that they have? Because what you want to do is expose those workers to such a variety of different situations that they are really starting to think about problems from multiple perspectives and really learn through that process. We talked a little bit earlier about how Gen Z is really focused on that diversity and that growth, and so this becomes a really compelling hook for them to stay and be longer term productive workers for you.
TANYA OTT: Okay.
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: So that’s important. The final piece that I would just mention is culture. [Many] of the trends that have started to gain prevalence with the Millennials—flexibility in how and when work is done, flexibility in hours, and work-life fit, and a culture of inclusion—all of those things that have risen to prominence are going to become even more critical with the next generation. The key difference there is that Gen Z does not necessarily think of those as a perk. They expect them. That’s a bit of a transition from prior generations where those were seen as “nice to have.” Now they will be seen as “must have” and almost unremarkable because they’re such an expectation.
TANYA OTT: Carolyn O’Boyle, it’s been great talking to you.
CAROLYN O’BOYLE: Thank you, Tanya.
TANYA OTT: Carolyn O’Boyle has more advice on how to think about recruiting, training, and keeping Generation Zers in your company. It’s compiled in her article, Generation Z enters the workforce at deloitte.com/insights.
Also there, a great conversation about the “old” new kids on the block—Millennials.
PATRICIA BUCKLEY: After all the talk about, we need more people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the STEM fields—they’re less likely than Baby Boomers to go into these areas. And that’s crazy that we’ve been talking, decade after decade, about “here’s where the jobs are.” There was one group, computer science, where Millennials have a higher percentage than the Baby Boomers, but that part’s not particularly surprising. Kids are still going into the same things they’ve been going into for a while: business, the social sciences, history, health professions. It’s interesting because the time frame I picked for the Millennials to look at STEM was the school year 2008–2009. So we were still in the recession. It just seems amazing that they see all this economic havoc everywhere they look, and yet that still doesn’t encourage them to say “Gee, I wonder what kind of major will make me most qualified for a job?”
TANYA OTT: To find that conversation, go to dupress.com and in the search bar, use the phrase “a new understanding of Millennials.”
Okay, I’m not a Millennial, but I love social media and especially Twitter. We’ve got a new Twitter handle—it’s @DeloitteInsight. No “S” at the end. And I’m on Twitter at @tanyaott1. Drop us a line. Let us know what topics you’re interested in hearing about on the podcast.
I’m Tanya Ott for the Press Room.
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