You can call them Gen Z or iGen or late millennials or perhaps, even, the Pandemic Generation.
Whatever their name, these are freshly minted adults born around the turn of the century who are starting to graduate and enter the workforce with a perspective on work and life that’s very different to their predecessors.
Those graduating during these pandemic years have a particularly unique perspective: seeing their career plans interrupted, their social lives upended and the opportunities that once seemed obvious completely shifting. In the UK for instance, just 18 per cent of grads secured jobs in 2020, compared with the more typical 60 per cent.
They’re also a generation born into technology, instant search and social media. And they’ve come into their adolescence and teenage years with smartphones and cameras, and just as video content was exploding.
They’ve seen recessions. They’ve now seen a pandemic and the flow on impact of stretched health infrastructure, a decimated system of travel and the personal sacrifice of lockdown, social distancing and remote work. They’ve seen the calls - and in many cases been the voices - for growing action on climate change, the environment and social justice issues.
This is a generation shaped by uncertainty: and they’re consequently set to bring in skills that will transform the future of work. Skill that more established workers may not only benefit from, but would be wise to also learn from, including the following:
It’s long been a common pastime of leaders to take issue with the perceived lack of resilience and in some cases ‘entitlement’ of new recruits.
But these new grads have and will continue to have resilience in spades.
Not only have they seen their parents directly impacted by the global financial crisis, but they’re also well across the changing world of work and what it entails in order to keep up.
And they’re now graduating (and where they can get the work) during a pandemic in which they’ve made significant sacrifices during some of their most formative years.
This resilience will see them able to move fast from everyday setbacks, but also to move fast from one thing to another, accepting that change will be a career constant and a key feature in getting ahead.
Fast tech adoption
If millennials are digital natives, what does that make the generations that follow?
They’re digital evolutionaries: not only born into a digital world, but readily able to access the tools needed to shape it, and therefore often building their friendships, social lives and interests through screens.
They move fast through the latest tech crazes and trends. They jump from platform to platform, from social network to social network - always comfortable learning how to navigate through these tools and building up new networks and followings from scratch.
This fast tech adoption will see them able to quickly learn whatever’s needed of them digitally in workplaces. But it also puts them in a good place to forecast trends on digital social behaviour, to experiment with new tools employers might be considering and to make recommendations on what companies should trial next.
This generation is set to be the most educated of any one generation before it. They’ve not only acquired formal knowledge through tertiary and TAFE studies, but they’ve also had ready access to fast learnings on whatever skill could be asked of them.
They’ll keep learning - knowing it’s key to surviving in a world of work that’s constantly changing.
They’re well aware that they’ll have multiple jobs and careers, and may take on multiple jobs at the one time, therefore learning and development will simply be a part of life rather than a set and forget at the front of their careers. They’ll be taking on short courses and online programs and they’ll be ready to research the problems they can’t personally solve.
Having come of age into a world of social networks, they will tap and nurture these networks for answers and ideas. They’ll find solutions in communities, and they’ll also take the time to share answers themselves with others.
There are fewer clear set careers paths for these new grads than there were in the past, even for the highest of achievers.
That’s seeing this crowd get tenacious. They’ll explore opportunities to work with great employers, but they’ll also consider their own businesses and negotiate to get what they want. With so much access to information and learning, they may also acquire what they need to know online, instead of learning physically from more experienced managers and mentors. The lure of securing work with a well-known employer is fading, especially as the opportunities in entrepreneurship are continually celebrated.
They will reject rigid work weeks of the past and push for flexibility. Having watched their parents struggle to cope with work life balance, they will push for a better deal - even before having families themselves, a deal that acknowledges their health and wellbeing and that they have a life outside of work.
In many cases they’ll work remotely - often starting jobs virtually, largely becoming the first cohort of graduates to do this in large numbers. This will present challenges, but also exceptional skills in autonomy, self determination and time and energy management.
Remote work will change another thing for these new grads - their social lives. When typically career starters spend so much physical time with their colleagues, and at that point have the time to engage socially outside of work, these new grads will have a very different experience. That may mean they cast a wider net of contacts and friendships - perhaps going more industry-wide from the outset through professional online networks.
An ethical stance
While (pre-pandemic) research has found that Gen Zs will prioritise money and salary in their careers - especially having come of age during the GFC - the situation’s more complex.
As Deloitte’s research found, money matters, but so too does balance, flexibility, perks and particularly, ensuring their employer and work they do aligns with their values.
Indeed, this generation judges companies on much more than the quality of their goods and services, or ever the perks they offer staff.
Rather, they are examining their ethical practices and their social impact. They’re looking at their environmental stance and how they’re mitigating their contributions to climate change. They’re looking at the willingness of leaders to take a stand.
All in all, these new grads are bringing expertise in uncertainty to the workplace - expertise that no amount of academic study could have taught them but that they’ve simply just lived and come of age through, due to the timing of their birth.
Good businesses should recognise this and give these new grads opportunities accordingly - or they’ll face competing with the resilience, tenacity and fast tech adoption these new workers will take into entrepreneurship.
Angela Priestley is a Yahoo Finance contributor, writing on family finances and juggling work with kids. She is the founding editor of Women’s Agenda, co-founder of Agenda Media and a mum of three young boys.
This is part 14 of our Jobs 2021 series, where Yahoo Finance is exploring how to succeed in the next decade: earn more, lead better and win in the next decade of work.