Generation Z: how to recruit and retain them

The author is head of Oxford University’s Careers Service and writes the FT’s Dear Jonathan career advice column.

As this year’s graduates enter the workforce, many employers are realizing they need to change the way they recruit and retain a new generation of workers, with different priorities. In my work at the University of Oxford Careers Service, and when I talk to other careers services around the world, we find that the old rules of recruitment no longer apply. Leaders who don’t adapt may not be able to attract – and keep – talented graduates in a still tight labor market.

Recent graduates and current students are digital natives, part of Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2012. Robert Neuhauser, global head of talent and leadership at Siemens, says: “This generation is different because they grew up in digital space. . . and i want to be found [by recruiters] in digital space. Siemens has changed its recruitment processes to track the digital footprints left by Gen Z, for example on Facebook, and approach candidates who seem to match its requirements.

This kind of “digital fishing” only works when candidates are active online. Other recruiters have focused on changing their processes to seek out a more diverse candidate pool. Koreo, a consultancy working with purpose-driven and community-driven organizations, has taken a “radical inclusion” approach to recruitment into the Charityworks training and development program it runs, according to Craig Pemblington , head of Koreo projects. “We have taken many steps to, for example, raise Bame [black, Asian and minority ethnic] participation in the program from 8% to 38% over four years,” he says. The changes included “anonymized applications and the assessment of responses to the same question across the entire cohort rather than all responses for each individual”.

For some organizations, talent diversity is intrinsic and necessary to their operations. Jason Pronyk, Senior Partnerships Advisor at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, said: “We cannot continue to seek talent only from elite Western institutions, so we are breaking down the barriers at entry, for example with paid internships.”

Students may feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available online and need or seek assistance in narrowing down their choices. A second-year law student said he screened employers by looking at the “stash” (branded sweatshirts, etc.) that was handed out, and another wrote, “I know what job I want, so I ‘d like the careers department to put me in touch with potential employers. Once they have identified their target potential employers, this generation of graduate job seekers is usually extremely knowledgeable about each of them. they will have questions about the overall purpose of the company, for example, and career development and mentorship opportunities.

KPMG Director of Human Resources Kevin Hogarth says organizations report that candidates are not only well-prepared (as one might imagine), but that they “ask as many probing and thought-provoking questions about environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) than on any other topic”.

In the new recruiting climate, leaders must be prepared to have candid dialogues with candidates about the company, rather than the traditional model of asking most questions themselves, with candidates having the opportunity to ” ask questions about the company” when recruiting. end of an interview. At fund manager Baillie Gifford, career manager Claire Stevens says, “The graduates dig into the issues at offer time, and the firm offers ‘honest conversations’ with partners. Global law firm Clifford Chance hosts sessions led by senior partners to answer questions about the firm’s purpose, values ​​and culture.

Organizations looking to recruit Gen Z (and to some extent Millennials, ages 26-41) are increasingly showcasing ways in which the work on offer has a purpose in itself or can support other activities useful. At Siemens, Neuhauser says staff ask, “Is this job something useful?” With a focus on hiring tech staff, the company is appealing to Gen Z by offering to do something “that makes sense in the real world.” Apply your AI [artificial intelligence] skills to health, transport or energy. At Koreo, Pemblington sees that Gen Z staff want to “engage more at work, and not just to work on something that has social impact, but to feel like ‘my work matters.'”

Another avenue for Gen Z recruiters is to highlight how employees can link their work to broader societal goals. At KPMG, for example, Hogarth describes the Our Impact website, which outlines the company’s support for schools and social mobility. And at the UN, Pronyk describes the organization’s “increased willingness to deploy young staff to be closer to beneficiaries [of its refugee and poverty relief work] where they can be more engaged, and the work has more meaning”.

Flexible and hybrid work offerings are now expected as standard by Gen Z staff. In a June 2022 survey of 647 Oxford students, “good work/life balance” was the most important attribute of a job, for the first time edging out the “intellectual challenge” of first place. Any professional employer requiring five days a week in the office is likely to see their candidate pool dwindle. KPMG, for example, plans to request an average of two days a week at the office or at a client’s and three days at home.

While focused work and location flexibility are part of the offering to attract Gen Z, it was internal peer networks that emerged as playing a significant role in early-stage staff retention and motivation. career. David Shelley, managing director of Hachette UK, describes the publishing house’s peer-to-peer networks as “much larger than in the past. Whether organized around the themes of LGBTQ+, gender, well-being, Bame, faith, socio-economic background, disability or age, learning opportunities in the networks are cited [in internal surveys] as giving the most satisfaction to staff, two-thirds of whom are actively engaged.

Gen Z staff themselves expect to work in a diverse organization. As Pemblington observes, at Koreo and Charityworks, “The challenge to be more diverse came from our middle-class white colleagues. The next challenge is that the talent has to feel disruptive. We have to give them [Gen Z] space for. . . not only to be heard, but to have an impact.

At Siemens, Neuhauser welcomes Gen Z: “It’s cool to have the next generation coming in, they’re allies in the ‘culture of change’.”

The integration of a so-called “disruptive culture” – that is, a culture that allows Gen Z to have an impact and have their opinions heard and followed by senior leaders – may seem quite challenging for the current organization, but it can also support the company’s mission and connect staff to the rest of the world. At Hachette, for example, Shelley observes that “the work seems less linear, and we encourage more secondary activities like blogging, mentoring and working in schools. The more staff are connected to the outside world, [where] our readers [are] after all, the better.

A growing number of organizations are recognizing that many Gen Z employees (and potential employees) will view a company’s ESG and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) actions as equally important. as the conditions offered in terms of remuneration and location.

Recruiters who have approached this with open discussions about the topics, including whether the organization still has work to do, are doing everything possible to attract a more diverse and perhaps less traditional group of staff. Those who continue and fully embrace this potentially disruptive new wave of talent, across the workplace, will build a sustainable, diverse and engaging organization.

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