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Generation Y
Generation X

Back To School: Find Your Future Workforce Now

The job market was grim during the mid-1990s when I graduated from college. At my first job, I was barely making minimum wage working as a newspaper reporter. But after pounding the pavement for three months following graduation, I was extremely thankful just to have a job–especially a job in my field of interest.

The job market was grim during the mid-1990s when I graduated from college. At my first job, I was barely making minimum wage working as a newspaper reporter. But after pounding the pavement for three months following graduation, I was extremely thankful just to have a job–especially a job in my field of interest.For the first time in a very long time there’s no shortage of jobs for today’s graduates, and there isn’t going to be one in the foreseeable future. There will be 77 million Boomers retiring over the course of the next two decades. Granted, there are 48 million Xers in the workforce, and 80 million Ys who will continue to enter the workforce over the course of the next decade. But that doesn’t mean there will be a job shortage.The problem is, most Xers and Ys aren’t interested in pursuing jobs that require a lot of travel, advanced degrees, or long hours; are redundant or don’t offer new challenges and learning opportunities on a regular basis; or don’t utilize technology. Xers and Ys are also the most entrepreneurial generations, claiming the highest number of start-ups in the United States.Therefore, young talent will continue to be in high demand, which means most of today’s U.S. graduates won’t have to scrape by on minimum wage and they will have their choice of employers.The aging of the Boomers has created a substantial shift in the workforce in more ways than one. Here are a few statistics to shed some light on just how significant these changes will be during the next decade.The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a shortfall of ten million workers, as 40 percent of the workforce will be eligible to retire.Census data suggest two employees will be leaving for every new hire entering, and new college grads will be an ever-increasing precious commodity.According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the number of entry-level job seekers receiving multiple offers has been on the rise, and the competition is driving salary offers up.

If your company isn’t aggressively pursuing student outreach, it’s probably time to start. We are facing a talent shortage of unprecedented proportions, and introducing students to your place of work will foster positive relationships with them, teach them about your industry, and may provide you with a future workforce.There are a number of ways to forge relationships with students: mentoring programs, internships, job shadowing, career fairs, volunteering to give presentations, and summer employment.Take a lesson from STEP-UP, a summer employment program for diverse, skilled, and motivated youth. STEP-UP is operated by Achieve! Minneapolis in partnership with the City of Minneapolis and is the second largest program of its kind in the nation.STEP-UP recruits, trains and places youth, ages 16–21, in paid summer jobs with local employers. Last summer, 131 employers hired 632 Minneapolis youth.A meaningful summer job inspires youth to pursue their education and career dreams, and it’s an investment in a city’s vitality and future workforce.Check out how two national associations are reaching out to students in an effort to save their industries for a devastating workforce shortage. The National Association of Manufacturers launched the ‘Dream It Do It’ campaign, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants created the ‘Start Here. Go Places.’ initiative.Undoubtedly, there is no better time to start preparing for your company’s future than right now. Are you ready?Today's students are growing up fast. If you wait to reach out to your future workforce, it just might be too late.

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.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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