The new graduate: A career guide to Generation Z

What should businesses expect of Gen Z's career aspirations?

This is a contributed article by Lauren Smith, vice president of Gartner's HR Practice

Employers who want to capitalise on the influx of Generation Z (Gen Z) candidates into the labour market must consider how best to appeal to these individuals.

Generation Z candidates, like their millennial predecessors, have grown up in an age when knowledge work, rather than industrial work, is dominant. Their main capital as job seekers is knowledge and skills and as such, knowledge workers can do their work anytime from anywhere. 

As the quality of technology and tools to get work done has improved, Gen Z candidates now expect employers to guarantee flexibility. In fact, according to new Gartner research, this cohort has a good idea of what they want for their work environment: 37% of Gen Z candidates agree or strongly agree that when applying for a job, they already knew what they needed an offer to include in order to consider accepting it.

Wishes are changing

Gen Z potential employees are being raised in an environment where there is little delineation between work and play. They believe work should accommodate play, and play should be incorporated in work.

In contrast to earlier generations, compensation is no longer a guaranteed method of keeping the young workforce in seat. In 2013, 41% of millennials aged 21 to 24 listed compensation as a reason to leave their current employer, however, only 36% of Gen Z candidates did so in 2017.

The consensus among recruiting leaders, focused on new graduates, is that the next generation cares increasingly about work-life integration, not just work-life balance. A better paycheck does not necessarily allow the pursuit of a secondary career interest — for instance developing the next cool app on the side while juggling a corporate job. As Gen Z candidates search for careers to accommodate their lifestyle, compensation is no longer a definitive reason to leave a job that may allow for work-life integration.

Planned career paths no longer desired

As the first truly digitally native graduate, the Gen Z candidate has grown up surrounded by technology that makes life easier, or at least faster. WhatsApp will tell them when their friends have read their texts. Uber will get them to their destination, and even bring them dinner. This generation is used to an accelerated way of life, where response is instantaneous. These factors bleed into Gen Z's career expectations - they expect rapid progression and reward for their efforts, where they are recognised on merit and potential, rather than tenure.

Gen Z's predecessors were strongly driven by future career paths at their organisations, going so far as to name "planning your career path at your current organisation" as their second ranked top "memorable" career experience. However, Gen Z do not rate the career path as highly and are more likely to remember the time they were passed over for a promotion.

As such, it no longer matters as much whether a company has a dazzling lineup of future jobs available, because the Gen Z candidate is utterly comfortable career, and company-hopping to get ahead. Almost half (46%) of millennials aged 21 to 24 in 2014 agreed a lack of future career paths was a driver of attrition, but in 2017, only 38% of Gen Z saw lack of future career paths as a top reason to leave their company. Furthermore, only 43% of Gen Z graduates reported seeing themselves having a long career in their current organisation.

The things that matter

The Gen Z candidate understands that innovation and change are the new orders of the day. Becoming an irrelevant or outdated resource is a key risk to mitigate as Gen Z candidates take their first steps in their careers.

To that end, development opportunities — training programmes, continuing education or participation in boot camps and workshops — have increased in importance. In 2017, 23% of Gen Z candidates listed development opportunities as a top attraction driver, compared to only 17% of millennials aged 21 to 24 five years earlier. These candidates understand how rapidly skill sets can become outdated.

More than anyone, it's an employee's manager who influences the type of development an employee gets on the job, and Gen Z knows this. In 2017, 33% of the Gen Z workforce ranked manager quality as a top reason to leave their current job, versus only 22% of millennials aged 21 to 24 in 2013. Recent Gartner research found that ineffective managers are the single biggest problem today, as 48% of HR leaders reported that their organisation's managers are not effectively developing employees.

The best type of managers act as connectors to pair up employees with mentors and also to personalise coaching to resonate with employees. These managers focus more on assessing the skills, needs and interests of their employees, and they recognise that some skills are best taught by people other than themselves. "Connector Managers" foster meaningful connections to and among employees, teams and the organisation to develop an employee's specific capabilities — at the very moment that employee is primed to learn. This type of manager can improve the performance of employees by up to 26% and triple the likelihood that their direct reports will be high performers.

Lauren Smith, vice president in Gartner's HR practice, develops solutions HR leaders can use to effectively and efficiently attract, engage, and manage the talent they need to drive their businesses forward. Smith leads a team of researchers to identify best practices in talent acquisition, talent management, and HR technology.