For the most part, the world has Gen X and millennials figured out. As two prominent generations, there is abundant research about how they behave socially and professionally. And at this point, we have been able to see how these studies fare. By 2017, 33% of the workforce was Gen X and 35% of the workforce was made of millennials.
However, a new generation has begun to enter the workforce. In 2017, 5% of the workforce was comprised of Gen Z, the newest generation. Born between 1995-2012 (though the years are highly debated), the oldest members of this generation are now 24. By 2021, they are expected to make up one-fifth of the workforce, making them an important demographic to pay attention to.
As a member of Gen Z, I find it important to stress that we are different from our Gen X and millennial counterparts. Therefore, we have different needs professionally. And as 41% of the construction workforce retires by 2031, we will be their replacements. In order to recruit and retain the newest generation of workers, it is important to understand them.
So, what exactly do we want in our professional lives? Here are five things a Gen Z professional is looking for in their career.
1. Financial Security
More than the generations preceding them, Gen Z is worried about finances and being able to afford housing, healthcare and paying off debts. They were raised during the recession and as student loans and healthcare costs mounted. Many Gen Z kids saw their parents struggle financially. Because of this, a driving force for this generation is financial security, career advancement and motivation.
When surveyed, 46% of Gen Z say that their biggest financial concern is student debt. This is likely because the cost of a college degree has increased 1,120% in the last 35 years, and Gen Z is painfully aware of that. However, as the cost of a college degree continues to increase, 64% of Gen Z is considering an advanced degree compared to 74% of millennials. Meaning, less students today are pursuing higher education than the prior generation. This brings the construction industry to an advantage. As they increasingly desire financial security yet turn away from a formal four-year degree, a career in construction becomes the perfect fit for Gen Z students.
2. Career Advancement
As Gen Z was raised around financial insecurity, they are driven to succeed financially and will work toward financial security. Raised by Gen X, they were taught the importance of independence, self-motivation and success. In turn, Gen Z is future focused, realistic and they want to work for their success, pushing them to desire career advancement.
Though this means that they will be hard workers for a company, it also means that they will likely move on if there is little opportunity for career advancement. Again, this position favors a career in construction. Upward movement and career advancement opportunities in the industry are endless. As Boomers continue to retire and leave positions open, Gen Z will have a lot of opportunity to advance and move up in their career.
Gen X and millennials preferred diversity and made strides to include minorities, but for Gen Z, diversity isn’t preferred, but expected. Gen Z grew up as the most ethnically diverse American generation to date and saw gay marriage legalized and a woman run for president. As the census predicts that over half of children in America will belong to a minority group in 2020, diversity is the expectation.
As construction continues to encourage diversity, Gen Z will be driven to the industry and its opportunities for minorities. As an industry, it is going to become increasingly important to continue promoting diversity both internally and externally.
4. Encouraged Collaboration while Fostering Independence
Gen Z paid attention to the criticism millennials received as they entered the workforce. One of the most common accusations, that they are dependent on technology and lack the soft skills necessary for professional face-to-face interactions. This likely led Gen Z to practice and prefer face-to-face interactions over interaction through text message or email.
With in-person communication comes a preference to collaborate on projects and work with a team. Gen Z is used to receiving constant feedback, therefore they crave feedback on the projects and work that they create.
However, they still value independence and working alone. Gen Z will often be entrepreneurial, driven and competitive, which warrants alone time and self-sufficiency within a team.
Gen Z is the world’s first technology natives. Many of them don’t know a world without smart phones, social media and the internet. Their generation was raised with technology and they have become fluent in its many uses. This will likely drive technological innovation in the workforce. As Gen Z brings their knowledge of technology to work, they can influence how tech is used in a professional setting. Additionally, as the workforce gets ready for this new generation, they will promote innovation to bring Gen Z to them.
It is going to become increasingly important to continue bringing new technology into the construction industry. With new, exciting and up-to-date technology, Gen Z will become eager to join the industry and use new tech to complete their work and remain efficient.
Overall, Gen Z is going to become a key player in the workforce over time. By 2031, almost half of the construction workforce will be retired, and the youngest member of Gen Z will turn 19. It is increasingly important that we appeal to the youngest generation, recruit them and keep them in the industry. With what Gen Z is looking for professionally, a career in construction is a perfect fit. We just have to show them that.