Two years after graduating from teaching, Will Booker works in an abandoned school building with no students in sight. A former classroom in northern Sydney has been turned into the office of her employer, a socially responsible start-up called Communiteer.
Booker’s work in social enterprise involves connecting company workers with skilled volunteer opportunities at charities. It’s certainly not what he expected to do when he started college, and says his career shift can be attributed, oddly enough, to the pandemic doomscroll.
“You can… get into these social media loops that keep showing you all the crap that’s going on in the world,” Booker told the Sydney Morning Herald and Age.
“So I think people live their lives with [a desire to make the world a better place] in mind.”
The 23-year-old’s sentiments are shared by many of his Gen Z peers – loosely defined as being born between 1995 and 2009 – and will make up a third of the Australian workforce by 2030. Determined to do unlike, they go into the workplace (both real and virtual) expecting employers to align with their values, not the other way around.
“They are the most technologically endowed, formally educated, globally connected and socially historically aware generation,” says demographer and social scientist Mark McCrindle.
The expectations of this group are high. McCrindle argues that what drives this generation — which he says grew up outraged by climate inaction, disenchanted with a culture of profit at the expense of other outcomes, and forced to start their careers in a global pandemic — is markedly different from past generations, who were more satisfied with collecting a paycheck and calling it a day.
“We have a generation looking for careers and roles that focus on purpose, meaning, resonating values, connecting with community and making a difference or having an impact,” says McCrindle, author of the 2019 report. Understanding Generation Z.
These young adults come to work with diversity, inclusion and social impact as priorities from day one. The result is a renewed vision of leadership that begins when they are hired and materializes when they step into management roles. And they certainly have career ambitions: 63% said opportunities for advancement were a crucial attribute in the workplace, second only to well-being at work (72%).
“They bring about change in organizations because they ask these questions. They change the culture of the workplace,” McCrindle says. “There is a collegiality, a flatter structure of interaction and social connection.”
Employers need to take this into account. “The [old] the hierarchy is not a place that has a long reach. This next generation ushers in that.
Empowerment is another defining characteristic of Gen Z. Unlike Millennials, who grew up with the internet and only started using smartphones as teenagers, Gen Z have been digital natives virtually since their birth. According to McCrindle’s research, 86% of Gen Zers expect to become entrepreneurs in some way in the future, either as a side hustle or their primary job.
Not only that, but they are aware that they are inheriting a world economically stacked against them. McCrindle points out that some of the early experiences of Gen Z relate to the decade-long impacts of the global financial crisis, during which steady wage growth became the norm.
Not only are Gen Zers the most entrepreneurial generation of our time, they carry a belief in collective responsibility — and have the means to do something about it.
“They combine economic pragmatism … with savvy, intuitive technology skills to transition into that entrepreneurial mindset,” McCrindle says.
Money or motivation? Gen Z wants both
But that doesn’t mean this generation will sacrifice pay for their lofty ideals. The talent war sparked by a reduced talent pool due to COVID has raised salary expectations.
Grant Robson, vice president of sales at graduate recruitment firm GradAustralia, says employers were in the driver’s seat four years ago amid an oversupply of graduates and interns.
Not anymore. “The ball is in [Gen Z’s] court,” he said. “This current generation has realized…that they have more authority to start asking, ‘What can you do for me?'”
In 2019, salary was the sixth most important factor for graduates when considering a job offer; this year it is second, ranking only behind the work itself.
But a good salary alone won’t be enough to keep Gen Z sticking around. Manon te Riele, who works in the cybersecurity division of PwC Melbourne, has seen some of her friends quitting their jobs because they don’t believe their jobs contribute to the common good.
“People are getting a lot more picky about the work they’re doing,” she says. “They want to feel there’s a point to it.”
Although te Riele is only 23 years old, she is a very active employee. Often the only woman in the room, te Riele joined the company’s Women in Cybersecurity and Technology group. Her passion for mental health found an outlet through PwC’s Green Light to Talk program.
“I don’t want to limit myself to work,” she says. “I’m a mental health advocate…I’m really focused on us all getting to work.”
Drift of “problem solvers” to new platforms
A new ecosystem of apps, communities, and training providers has emerged to meet the needs of Gen Z workers who are unhappy with college courses or traditional job boards.
Jeanette Cheah runs HEX, an educational technology provider that aims to be “the innovation gap year” for high school and college students. With a curriculum co-designed by Atlassian, HEX equips students with design thinking, leadership, and technical skills to work in the tech industry and for jobs that don’t yet exist.
Cheah wants to fill a hole left by dormant college degrees that she says aren’t closely aligned with the industry and don’t recognize the strengths of Gen Z.
“Young people are already sophisticated digital consumers. Often the education doesn’t treat them as such,” she says. Conventional careers such as medicine, law, and engineering are still popular, but there is a “hunk” of students interested in what a product manager or UI designer is. .
“There is a very big gap in understanding new roles, which is why I think the school needs to focus on abilities.”
The proportion of HEX students willing to work on ethical, sustainable or socially responsible projects has increased from 10% to 40%, Cheah says. “They see their role as being problem solvers.”
The youngest members of the Australian workforce are finding their next career move not so much on Seek, but through communities, including 10,000-strong Ripple, which lists ‘impact opportunities’ for community organizations and nonprofits (e.g. Who Gives A Crap) and start-up unicorns (Canva) to global organizations such as the UN.
In the information age, Gen Z doesn’t need help writing a resume, says Skye Riggs, co-founder of Ripple.
“The challenge they face is the huge feeling of being overwhelmed with: how do I build a career that I love? How can I gain experience in these entry-level roles? Who do I contact for advice? ” she says.
“This is where the community plays a very big role.”
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