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SAN ANTONIO—Today’s teens will make up 36 percent of the global workforce in 2020. People currently between 16 and 20 years of age, dubbed Generation Z, are tomorrow’s workers. And they are true “digital natives”: They’ve spent their entire lives using technology to collaborate with others and can’t imagine life without their devices.
Companies that learn how to engage these individuals and adapt to how they work will be the ones that survive the major changes in the global workforce that are currently underway, said Jim Link, chief human resource officer at Randstad North America, a staffing and consulting company.
Link spoke at the SHRM Foundation’s Thought Leaders Retreat on Oct. 8, 2015.
Employers need to pay attention to Generation Z because of the sheer numbers but for other reasons as well. Employers need to compete for these workers because 65 percent of the children entering school today will work in jobs that don’t currently exist, Link said, citing a Duke University study.
“We’re educating kids today who will go into jobs that we don’t even know about,” he explained. They’ll also have more education than generations that came before them, with 1 in 2 having a four-year college education.
“We need them because as work changes in the future, these individuals will have the capability, the skills and foresights to go into those positions that we can’t even begin to describe today,” he said. “They’ll have the core skills and knowledge that make them successful in the future.”
To attract these digital natives, companies need more collaboration and communication tools. About half of teens today are online, texting and communicating via computers or mobile devices more than 10 hours a day.
“We are changing the way that we’re parenting them, we’re going to be changing the way we’re employing them, and we have to change the way we lead to make them successful,” Link said.
In a 2014 Wikia Study of Millennials, 53 percent said they would rather give up their sense of smell than give up their smartphones or other devices. A growing number see the ability to work remotely as a right, not a privilege. To them, “work is more about what you do than where you do it,” he said.
But only 55 percent of employees worldwide give their companies high marks for effective collaboration across functions and departments, according to a Hay Group study Link cited. Just 24 percent of companies have a strategy in place to address the needs of the next generation of workers from an IT perspective, he said.
Employers also need to understand what drives Generation Z. Members of this generation value honesty, reliability and financial security. They are attracted to employers that give back to the community. The people they work with matter as much as the type of work they do. They value working with people they can learn from. Health care coverage is the most important benefit to them, followed by training and workplace flexibility, a 2014 Randstad global study found.
The strength of motivators for this generation can vary from country to country. In China, opportunities for advancement would entice more employees to stay with their employers. In India, more money was a slightly stronger enticement than advancement opportunities.
Competition for Generation Z workers will intensify because of a number of global workforce trends. One-fifth of the world’s population will be age 60 or older by 2050. The greatest supply of young talent is in the East, not the West; most of today’s teens are living in India and China.
Meanwhile, people are more mobile. The number of people living outside their country of birth is larger than at any other time in history. High percentages of recent graduates say they want to work outside their home country at some point in their careers, according to a recent PwC study that Link cited.
Corporations are already competing globally for scarce technical and professional skills. A 2014 Deloitte study found that 75 percent of the respondents rated workforce capability as “urgent” or “important,” but only 15 percent said their organizations are ready to address it.
These global workforce trends create an urgency for companies to develop strategies that involve internal changes to attract and retain Generation Z workers, Link said. The old hierarchical systems aren’t going to work with this generation.
“How they work and how they get things done—we’re not prepared for that as a society,” he said. Instead of asking how to change young workers, he said business leaders should be asking “How do we adopt this new way of working into our culture?”
Dori Meinert is senior writer/editor for HR Magazine.
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