Onboarding the always-on generation

February 8, 2016

Nineteen ninety-five was a pivotal year for the information technology industry. Netscape went public, the dot com era debuted, Sun Microsystems released Java. The year is also notable for spawning Generation Z, now poised to alter the composition of your staff, and your hiring processes, for the next 15 years.

The first wave of Generation Z’s 1.8 million job candidates will enter the labor force in May 2016 and, like preceding generations, they come weighted with unique characteristics determined partly by the events and technology that helped shape their formative years. If what experts say is correct, organizations need to prepare for digital challenges and new opportunities posed by this influx of tech-savvy employees.

Generation Z is the most device-dependent generation ever to enter the workforce, spreading their preference for visual presentation of information across five platforms – PC’s, tablets, notebooks, TV’s and smartphones. How device-addicted are they? A study from Randstad Holdings and Millennial Branding reports 84% of Generation Z sleep with their phones!

All that digital dependency may be good news for chief information officers deploying digital transformation initiatives. The Randstad Holding/Millennial Branding study reports that 65% of businesses claim hiring Generation Z workers is necessary for a firm to be considered “truly innovative.” Anna Matthai, Research Manager, at CompTIA, an industry association, advises, that “as the world becomes more digital, businesses with the best technology will be in the best position to hire these young workers.” Make sure a tour of the data center is on the agenda for your top candidates.

Generation Z’s reliance on technology comes with a dark side: shorter attention spans. The National Center for Biotechnology Information says the average attention span of a Generation Z’er is eight seconds, down from 12 seconds for their Millennial counterparts in 2000. For the curious, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds!

This generation prefers information served in “bite sizes.” Bob DiGuardia, Director of Enterprise Applications and Adjunct Professor of Management, at Suffolk University in Boston, says the Gen Z students he teaches, “live in an on-demand world, have little patience for latency and they do not absorb information because they know they can Google anything they need to know.”

Born four years after the Web was invented, this first class of Generation Z is clueless about how work was done before smartphones, tablets and social media apps existed. But organizations can take advantage of this void by creating multi-generational mentoring teams that pair new Gen Z hires with senior staff members. For example, Gen Z can show older workers on how to leverage social media to be more productive. In turn, those older staffers can introduce Gen Z to the rules and regulations of corporate governance, particularly in the area of personal and corporate data usage.

Experts say they have found other Gen Z traits which they believe will benefit hiring organizations. A Robert Half International study reports 74% of Generation Z prefer “face- to-face” rather than electronic communication with their manager. Anthony Denhart, university relations manager for General Electric, claims Gen Z is “more entrepreneurial than Millennials”.

Gen Z is more “serious” than prior generations, a trait honed by growing up in an era dominated by 9/11, the emergence of terrorist actions and watching their parents struggle through The Great Recesssion, says Dan Schawabel, founder of Millennial Branding, a New York City marketing consultancy. While fiscal greed portrayed in the movie “Wall Street” was influential in the formative years of Millennials, Gen Z’s predecessors, the stark depravity of “The Hunger Games” was front-and-center for Generation Z.

Those historical and cultural experiences have caused Generation Z “to come to the work place well prepared, less entitled and more equipped to succeed,” Mr. Schawabel said.

The transition won’t be smooth entirely. Organizations should be aware of the potential for inter-generational conflicts. Millennials were asked to list stereotypes of Generation Z in the Randstad/Millennial Branding study. “Lazy”, “self-centered” and “lack of focus/easily distracted” were among the most prominent traits mentioned.

And if your firm requires candidates to take an aptitude test, do not expect Generation Z candidates to score well. Gen Z students from the United States rank 31st in the world in math and 23rd in science. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the U.S. Department of Education program that monitors testing in America, reports 74% of Generation Z are not “proficient” in math and 62% are not “proficient” in reading.

Come May 2016, knowing how to recruit, train and integrate the digital skills of Generation Z into your multi-generational workforce will be one of the most critical human resource challenges you face. Hiring “always-on” Generation Z workers does come with an upside: if something crashes at the data center in the middle of the night, you’ll always be able to reach Generation Z staff on your disaster recovery team on their phones as they sleep!

Gary J. Beach is former publisher of CIO Magazine and author of “The U.S.Technology Skills Gap”.

Source: Wall Street Journal