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Talent Development

Losing The Employment Game

Pretend for a moment you’ve been awarded a spot on a reality television show titled, Let’s Make a Hire. In a race against the clock, you are tasked with hiring skilled workers to complete a project on budget and on time.

Pretend for a moment you’ve been awarded a spot on a reality television show titled, Let’s Make a Hire. In a race against the clock, you are tasked with hiring skilled workers to complete a project on budget and on time.

It seems simple enough, but you quickly realize your pool of qualified applicants is smaller than expected and rapidly diminishing as other employers lure them away. You lose a substantial amount of money in training and turnover and finish the task woefully behind the deadline. Rather than walk away with the prize money, your stint on Let’s Make a Hire ends with an embarrassing loss.

But let’s face facts. This isn’t entertainment; it’s reality. The skills required by our workforce are growing in complexity, and there are too few people trained to do the work our new technology and information-based economy demands.

Likewise, we’ve started to lose the critical skills and knowledge that retiring Baby Boomers acquired in manufacturing, healthcare and other industries which are aging out and have an inadequate supply of younger workers moving in or up.

In the past few weeks, XYZ University published two reports examining the state of our nation’s workforce: Scary Workforce Stats and America’s Aging Workforce Crisis.

Upon further review of all this research, we can conclude that unless employers make workforce development a high priority, America is likely to lose its position of global leadership in ways that could put our future living standards and business competitiveness at risk.


There are 3.3 million job openings in the U.S. and roughly half of employers say they’re having a hard time finding qualified workers. The skills gap is starkest in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering mathematics) careers.

President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness recently identified this gap between higher education and workforce training as a “critical problem” for U.S. competitiveness. The Council further identified ways for every entity from preschools to the Department of Labor to pitch in and reinvest in our nation’s workforce development.

Unfortunately, the information hasn’t been well publicized. (If this message was getting even half the media’s attention as the Affordable Care Act, we’d already be making great strides in economic growth!)

So if you weren’t aware of The Council’s call to action, here are just a few of the ways you can help.


Explore opportunities with educational institutions to assist with designing and implementing curricula that better prepare students for real world employment.

Association executive

Partner with post-secondary institutions to develop skills-based learning standards so students earn credentials based on competence and not just credit hours.

Business leader

Provide information on skills needed within your company so employers, educators and students can efficiently match education and training with employer needs.

Volunteer or parent

Share your professional skills and knowledge in classrooms, review information on your school’s performance, and advocate for the support of resources linked to the critical areas of STEM education.

Unlike the Let’s Make a Hire scenario outline above, if we fail to bridge the skills gap and prioritize workforce development, we stand to lose much more than prize money and pride. Collectively, we can change our course. Let’s get to work on workforce development now — before it’s 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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