It wasn’t long ago that Millennials dominated nearly every headline. But as this generation started to enter their 40s, there was a marked shift in focus to Gen Z. Now sitting at the center of a veritable media frenzy, one can’t go more than an hour without hearing mention of this younger generation. While this demonstrates the fleeting nature of youth, it also opens up a number of questions about who Gen Z is and why they are so important, especially as they grow their ranks in today’s workforce.

Compare Gen Z’s rise to the continued interest in various forms of skilling, and we find ourselves at an unfamiliar crossroads. While Millennials often had to play defense, Gen Z has taken a different approach, letting the world know what they expect from their employers. This dynamic has given employers the opportunity to not only listen and learn but to develop workforce planning strategies that align with what Gen Z wants when it comes to continuous skilling opportunities.

Adobe’s 2023 Future Workplace Study surveyed over 1,000 Gen Z early career starters who were working at medium to large-sized companies in the U.S. and uncovered, “When asked what types of training they’d like to see more of, 48 percent said they wanted more training on hard skills related to their jobs, compared to 33 percent for soft skills.” However, over half of the survey respondents said they participate in career development training programs less than once a month, with a lack of time being their number one obstacle. Moreover, 28 percent believed that their current roles aren’t using their existing skills to their full potential. The disconnects are already apparent.

At a high level, it means there is a new generation of workers eager to advance their skills and careers without the means or bandwidth to do so. Still, concurrent to this narrative are those employers that believe Gen Z needs to improve their social skills, with some of the Big Four consulting firms going so far as to offer etiquette classes. Taking both points into consideration, this felt like the right moment to go directly to the source and see what a few Gen Z workers thought.

A 24-year-old at an American healthcare company explained, “I’m in IT, and while I didn’t expect to come into a job knowing everything, almost as soon as I had started to work here, I was encouraged to ‘reskill’ and ‘upskill.’ And though I get the value long-term, I hadn’t even had a chance to learn how to do my job before my employer wanted me to move in other directions. Honestly, it seemed like I had to do more college after just graduating to satisfy what they were asking of me. Some of this I could learn on the job if I had the chance.”

On the other hand, a 25-year-old in finance at a multinational professional services organization shared, “I knew before I looked for a job that there’s a lot changing in the world. My friends and I were in college during the pandemic, so we watched the whole remote versus in-office debate from the beginning, the Great Recession, tech layoffs and the scare about AI, and that’s just the last four years. I get that I am going to have to keep skilling myself to stay attractive as an employee, and yeah, it might be extra work for me, but it should pay off.”

Rounding out these interviews, a 23-year-old economist at an American multinational retail corporation said, “The whole skills conversation sounds important, but it doesn’t really feel like it’s about me. Maybe if my boss knew what I wanted to do with my career, I could get excited about it. Right now, it feels like another generic corporate initiative.”

For HR and talent leaders, each of these Gen Z voices provides critical insight. There is, ostensibly, room to improve how employers build continuous skilling initiatives in a way that is meaningful to both Gen Z workers and the organization overall. Here are some factors to think about:

  1. Think about skills from the start, as Gartner recently predicted. Instead of asking new Gen Z hires to immediately start skilling, Gartner considered how removing degree requirements and expanding apprenticeship programs can help organizations develop talent internally so workers gain the specific skills they will need to advance. Whether skills-first or skills-based, skills need to be part of the pre-hire process as well as post.
  2. Recognize that skills support more than just internal mobility. Though many organizations view continuous skilling as a tool for talent retention, it also permits turnover. As Josh Bersin expounded, “Careers that used to stay within an industry are morphing into ‘skills-based careers,’ enabling people to jump around more easily than ever before.” Given that younger workers have longer career runways begin the push for continuous skilling slowly.
  3. Stop the proverbial clock. At Davos this year, there was a panel about “The Race to Reskill,” which purported that a quarter of global jobs are expected to change by 2029. Doesn’t give anyone much time, does it? And though it is possible to see this type of sweeping change in the near future, that does not mean that Gen Z workers will lack usefulness as a result. Skills strategies will always require retooling as needs change and gaps emerge.
  4. Find alignment. A theme that jumped out repeatedly in conversations with Gen Z workers was the need to feel heard. Rather than put workers on a path, talk through different options. Some might benefit from mentorship or leadership coaching; others might want to take the classes and check the boxes needed to stay sharp. Either way, one size will never fit all (and that goes for any generation).
  5. Use the insights available. As macro trends evolve and workers cycle in and out of the organization, keep a close watch on existing skills and talents as well as metrics tied to productivity, engagement levels, growth and the like. Data can offer validation about what the workforce can provide beyond employee feedback. The journey to becoming skills-based needs to be measured along the way.

In the same way that it is impossible to talk about workforce planning without accounting for the expectations of Gen Z, it is impossible to talk about workforce planning without accounting for continuous skilling. By coupling the two early and often, employers have the ability to build what the future looks like, in line with the qualified talent helping drive the business goals forward.

 


Authors
Anne Fulton

Anne Fulton, author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller The Talent Revolution and The Career Engagement Game—Shaping Careers for an Agile Workforce, is the founder and CEO of Fuel50, pioneers of the skills-powered Talent Marketplace. Supporting world-class brands, including Docebo, WPP, Citizens Bank, Trane Technologies, Fidelity, and countless others, Anne is a recognized Talent Futurist and a true thought leader in the HR space.


Discussion

Please log in to post comments.

Login