The Great Gen Z Recruitment Reset: Why the Old Hiring Rules are Dead

Juliana Stancampiano
Oxygen CEO & Author
Companies must think of new ways to recruit and retain specific buckets of employees.
February 15, 2022

By now, nearly every company has experienced some fallout from the Great Resignation, a once-in-a-generation labor reset in which tens of millions of people worldwide are quitting their jobs. This is no ordinary employment reshuffle due to a strong economy, but a seemingly existential change that continues to accelerate. Economists, CEOs, HR managers, and labor analysts are scratching their heads, wondering just where workers taking part in the “big quit” have gone, since millions of jobs remain unfilled. 

In 2022, companies will need to focus on keeping existing employees, while at the same time recruiting new ones at a breakneck pace.

While this paradigm will apply to every type of company, this article will examine the issue at the corporate level, where one-size-fits-all hiring and retention programs won’t work. Companies must think of new ways to recruit and retain specific buckets of employees—mid-career specialists, techies, managers, executives, and, perhaps most importantly, Gen Z employees.

Hiring and retaining Gen Z

Gen Z, largely defined as people born after 1997, is the youngest office cohort and they are quitting in the largest numbers. Some 80% of Gen Z employees changed jobs in the last year, compared to 50% of millennials, according to LinkedIn. Since Gen Zers are just starting out in their careers, it makes sense they’re more willing to job-hop, but I would argue something deeper is going on with our newest team members; they view work in a whole new way. Graduating college and starting their first jobs in a pandemic, remotely from their childhood bedrooms, was not the dream they had harbored. And those were the lucky ones; many others, carrying newly-minted degrees, couldn’t find any professional work. This collective first-job “letdown” caused many Gen Zers to want something else entirely from work; if they weren’t going to get all-you-can-eat gourmet food, fat paychecks, corporate gyms, they could at least seek autonomy, flexibility, and transparency.

As Gen Z enters the workforce in the next decade, companies will need to take a creative, non-linear approach to how they recruit, retain, and engage these early-career workers. And that will require a great reset in how hiring happens in the first place. For generations, companies have followed a narrow path to find the best and brightest early-career recruits: ferret out candidates at top universities with the most burnished CVs. While hiring young graduates from Harvard or Stanford is not about to go out of style, there are only so many young people who will be admitted to, and can afford to attend, these elite institutions.

In fact, many Gen Zers have begun questioning the value of a college degree at all, reflected in the largest declines in undergraduate enrollment in half a century that have taken place during the last two years.

More are choosing to attend coding bootcamps, the best of which have job placement rates of 90% or higher, surpassing even top computer science schools such as MIT, The University ofPennsylvania, and UC Berkeley. 

The Gen Z career-builder mindset

If Gen Zers do pursue college, they don’t plan to just hole up for four years studying. Their generation could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for their degrees, after all, so they are eager to start a path toward monetizing those degrees before they even receive them. They’re taking on part-time coding or consulting gigs, starting their own freelance businesses, or doing co-op internships during their college years. Almost every computer science, engineering, or business department allows and even encourages internships now.

Anyone who has met a college student recently will hear more talk of pro-bono projects through consulting and computer science clubs, internships, and startup accelerators than ever before.

In fact, some Gen Zers get started on their career paths while in high school; plenty of 15 and 16 year-olds start nonprofits, get paid for coding projects, or create monetizable online content.

These new trends mean companies must expand their internship, co-op, and training programs into the undergraduate realm. They must sponsor co-op programs for Gen Z coders, doers, and would-be entrepreneurs. They must offer on-the-job training to young recruits, some of whom may be technically gifted but lack four-year college degrees. And they will need to think outside of brand-name universities, looking for smart, self-starter candidates at a wider swath of schools, bootcamps, and alternative degree programs. 

Building the Gen Z workplace

Once you hire Gen Z workers, you’ll have to work hard to keep them. What does a Gen Z-aware workplace look like? We’re only in the early stages of this transition, but one thing that stands out is being a space of continual learning. Gen Zers are constantly seeking out new information via YouTube and social media, and often creating their own, so they will carry this inquisitive nature into the office. Make sure to provide young employees with plenty of opportunities to learn new skills, and encourage them to share their knowledge via two-way onboarding and engagement platforms.

This is not the generation to sit through boring training videos or wait for quarterly reviews to find out how they’re performing. They want to participate in an interactive learning process every day, getting and giving continuous feedback.

Gen Z has been dealt a tough hand by the pandemic, starting out their college and working lives under some of the most difficult conditions in history. This experience has marked them profoundly, and since most Gen Zers don’t know what work-life was like before the great shutdowns of 2020, they’re creating the future of work before our eyes. Companies need to join forces with this curious, socially-conscious, authentic, diverse, and pragmatic generation to recreate their workforces for a new tomorrow.

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