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Acknowledge the Changing World of Work to Recruit, Retain Gen Z

Chelsea C. Williams, founder and CEO at Reimagine Talent, a national talent development firm headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2024
Chelsea C. Williams, founder and CEO at Reimagine Talent, a national talent development firm headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., speaks at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2024.

Generation Z, which will make up 30 percent of the workforce by 2030, is still something of a mystery to employers trying to figure out how to support them.

Chelsea C. Williams, founder and CEO of Reimagine Talent, a national talent development firm headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., offered employers strategies during her session at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2024 in Las Vegas on how to recruit and develop Generation Z.

Employers need to understand that members of this generation—the oldest of whom are 27 and whose worldviews have been shaped by significant events such as the pandemic and the student loan crisis—have different expectations of employers than past generations, she noted.

“Acknowledge [the] changing world of work. Seek to understand shifts in values, ideals and aspirations,” Williams said.

She pointed to research that found Generation Z values:

  • Professional development. They are looking for ways to build their skills for the future.
  • Upward mobility and stability. They want to know where their careers are going and understand how their roles will shift and adjust.
  • A sense of community. “Most are wanting a hybrid [schedule] mix, to be around each other, learn from colleagues … and forge relationships,” Williams said.
  • A sense of purpose and inclusion. They are seeking to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Williams shared the following tips to help employers communicate with, recruit and develop this cohort:

  • Be specific about the skills you’re seeking in job candidates or employees. Organizations may say they are looking for job candidates with leadership or critical thinking skills, for example, but those are broad terms, she pointed out. Leadership among fraternity brothers, as a member of student government or with the campus band is different from exhibiting those skills in the workplace, she said. “It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. We have to be more thoughtful in spelling it out,” whether that’s in the job description, interview, onboarding or in creating training programs. “Get specific on these employability skills so there’s no guessing on what it takes to be successful” at your organization.
  • Leverage data to set programmatic strategy. Know who your employees are by using data to see what generations they represent, then use that information to help set your strategy for employee programs, such as training and coaching.
  • Promote “occupational identity.” “Students have to get close to your workforce to understand it,” Williams said. When she was a high school senior, she said job-shadowing an HR professional put her on the path to human resources. Some employers start as early as middle school to offer this career exposure.
  • Drive programs and practices that take into consideration the experiences of your diverse workforce.

  • Connect Generation Z and others to your organization’s mission. Williams pointed to the new Youth Happiness report from Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation that found much of Generation Z’s happiness “is contingent upon feeling they have a purpose in school or work.”
  • Upskill your people managers. “We want to definitely make sure our managers have a healthy way of coaching this generation,” Williams said. “It’s important for us to start embedding some generational framework and understanding” into how employees are coached and mentored. “How do you manage someone new to a career differently [from] someone who’s been at this for a decade? Encourage cross-sector partnerships that support workforce development. We’ll have to partner with higher education, nonprofits [and] the government to thoughtfully prepare for the future.”
  • Amplify mental health and well-being resources. “If you want someone to show up [to work] healthy, well and productive, it’s best that you consider, within reason, how you can support them in doing so,” she said. Employers can support mental well-being by modeling it as a part of their culture, asking employees what they need to be successful, and offering flexible work options, accommodations and benefits.

Williams pointed to the Kate Spade Co. as an example. Since founder Kate Spade died by suicide in 2018, the company has used its platform to help destigmatize mental health issues, partnered with a group of influential female leaders who are experts in the mental health field, and provided women and girls with access to mental health resources.


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