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Generation Z
Industry - Construction

5 Ways You’ll Have Better Luck Recruiting Gen Z into the Trades

Retirements and lack of enthusiasm to enter the trades by Millennials means labor shortages. Tapping into traits of Generation Z can reverse that trend.

We are witnessing one of the biggest shifts in human capital in history. This has forced companies and collective industries to completely regroup and reevaluate strategy on how to recruit, retain, and, perhaps most importantly, engage the next generation of talent.

The skilled trades are undoubtedly one of the foremost examples of this crisis, as this recent NPR story noted, and struggles to engage Millennials, since according to XYZ University data, 64% of Millennials said they wouldn’t even consider working in construction if you paid them $100,000 or more.

Let’s look at construction. The industry is projected to lose 1.1 million workers to retirement by 2024. The industry has recognized a growing, urgent need for succession planning, workforce development, and engagement among young professionals.

One way to combat this trend of retirements and labor shortages is to effectively engage the generation after Gen Y. Generation Z, born 1996 - 2009, is perhaps the best hope to breathe oxygen back into the skilled trades and reverse the trend of labor shortages and declining interest.

There is a way to entice Gen Z into entering the skilled trades and it starts with perception. Our most recent Gen Z research findings discovered that 84% of students plan to attend college. This tells us that many in Gen Z have the perception that going to a traditional university is a more stable route and will lead to more success in the long term. To combat this trend, skilled-trades jobs need to be portrayed as a worthy alternative to college that will lead to an enriching and well-paying career.

Another finding the paper turned up was the most important thing to Gen Z in a job is salary. We are a very money-driven generation which can be attributed to the fact that we grew up during the recession. Sixty-six percent of us said that we value a job with financial stability over one we enjoy, which is a drastic change from Millennials and shows that we will look to the trades as a career option simply due to the financial opportunity. But, to pique the interest of Gen Z into the trades, it is important to emphasize the ‘high-paying’ aspect of jobs in the trades.

We also need to be provided with opportunities for mentorships and paid apprenticeships; many of which were rolled back because of the recession and need to be expanded to suit the young labor market.

It’s also important to utilize recruitment strategies to identify young workers as early in our careers as possible. And early no longer means college, but rather high school, and even middle school to some extent. The opportunity to do this is more prevalent than ever due to the growth of STEM programs and the trend of Gen Zs being farther along our career path than previous generations at this stage in our young lives. Take note, XYZ U has found only 3% of Gen Zs say that they haven’t given any thought to their career choice.

Another important trait to consider when recruiting Gen Z into the skilled trades is our tendency to become entrepreneurs. In our research, we discovered that 58% of Gen Zs want to start a business someday and that 14% already have. Careers in the trades can offer us a path to reach that goal. After the apprenticeship and skill development period, leadership development and succession planning can begin, while association leadership can offer business development for younger members.

Knowing and doing these five things about Generation Z can help attract us into the trades easier.  

  • ‍Change the perception and portray it as a worthy career choice.
  • Emphasize the ‘high-paying’ salaries available as Zs seek financial security over job enjoyment.
  • Offer mentorships and apprenticeships.
  • Introduce and recruit early in primary schooling as students explore career choices.
  • Highlight the entrepreneurial aspects of the trades.

Download “Ready or Not – Here Comes Z”, XYZ University’s latest white paper on Generation Z which analyzes workplace shifts likely to occur and tips on what your organization should be doing to prepare for Gen Zs arrival into the workforce.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Josh Miller

Josh Miller is a passionate and informed advocate for his generation—Gen Z. He started speaking on national stages at the age of 13. Now, at the age of 16, he’s an award-winning entrepreneur and thought-leader who has met and been mentored by several notable business leaders. Miller brings considerable research and insight to his presentations, drawing on his experiences as both a high school student and a young consultant to Fortune 500 companies. His presentations resonate with audiences that want to learn how to engage today’s students and young professionals, and glean valuable insights into future workforce trends.

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