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Shifting Gears for Generation Z – 7 Things to Consider

According to a Pew Study, Generation Z followed the Millennials and were born between 1996 (revised start date) and 2012 meaning that the oldest is now 23 years old and the youngest is 7 and in primary school today.

Already, they are beginning to impact your business in new and different ways just when you thought that you had figured out and adjusted to the Millennials (1981-1996), who are taking over your projects today and who will be your clients of tomorrow.

Michele Russo, Managing Director, Research and Practice at the American Institute of Architects (AIA), writes an interesting article for AIA Architect that you will find interesting, especially if you are trying to design your recruiting and training programs for the next three to five years.

The article is titled Gen Z is Coming. Is Your firm Prepared? It is a good news, bad news article for architectural leaders who are not only recruiting for their firms, but also designing for clients and cultures that are rapidly shifting gears. Her points about Gen Z should be especially relevant and challenging for construction firms who are still stuck in the “This is the way that we have always done it.” mindset and for those scrambling to catch up with the new economy.

We have posted in the past on the generational changes that we are facing in the industry today, and in one post I said that for those of you who have finally figured out how Millennials fit into the “scheme of things,” that the Gen Z will be a pleasant surprise. That is still a valid statement with a caveat that Gen Z will require some major mindset and cultural changes on your part to accommodate the largest potential workforce (86 million) in the history of the country and of our industry.

Here are 7 things to know about Gen Z and to consider as you grow your business, recruit, hire and train your workforce. These are adapted from Michele’s post.

First, Gen Z mirrors Gen X (1965-1980): pragmatic and have a strong work ethic. They have no trouble working the extra hours and overtime to get the job done. The way they see “the job” will be different and will require changes in the way you do things if you want them to stick around to do the work. They have always had supportive adults in their lives and that will make knowledge transfer during the demographic “shift change” easier for you. 

Second, Gen Z mirrors some aspects of “The Silent Generation,” (born 1928-1945) in being “risk adverse.” Having grown up with the impact of the recession on their families, global disruption, long standing wars, “active shooter” incidents and economic recovery, Gen Zers have become realists and while they are more comfortable with diversity, their “growing up” environment has made them more “risk averse.”

Third, and perhaps a little unsettling to HR managers in the industry, “Gen Z has a health crisis” and they will be bringing it to the workplace. This will be a real challenge for your company as Gen Z enters the workplace. What is meant by that you might ask? Russo says that “A third of high school students get six hours or less of sleep a night.” Studies have shown that “Sleep deprivation leads to lower cognitive skills and negative health outcomes.” Exhaustion from sleep deprivation will be a challenge in the Gen Z workforce and for safety on your jobsites.

Additionally, according to Russo, over 30% of American teens are obese and will enter their working years with one of the highest rates of obesity of any generation in the last century. The resulting benefits packages that you offer, she suggests, will have to include more well-being programs. The Gen Z need for “naps” and the current trend toward sleep pods in some new workspaces will present a new challenge to our industry where, for safety and production needs, we are always on and that starts, in many cases at 4am when the workday begins.

Fourth, Gen Z values financial security and diversity. Russo concludes that firms (all of those in the AEC world) will need to consider these trends of diversity, transparency and financial security to attract and retain staff.” I would add that a defined career path and continuous skills training will be a necessity as well for the construction industry.

Fifth, while Gen Z is the most diverse technologically savvy “always on their devices” generation we have ever known, their “soft skillset” and interpersonal skills may be lacking. They can talk to folks around the world on their devices, a real plus, but they have some difficulty talking to people outside their circle in person. That will translate into the need for expanded training in multiple languages in the soft skills that we are seeing today as well as the need for expanded safety and jobsite training in communication.

Sixth, unlike the Millennials before them, Gen Z seems to want stability in an everchanging world and will look for companies and industries where they can build a solid financially safe career. That bodes well for the industry provided that the labor pool is large enough to overcome the skilled craft shortages we see today and in the near future.

Seventh, Gen Z is passionate about their social causes and are aligned with the Millennials on political and social issues, environmental and climate change and they expect the government to do more to fix the problems that we face in the future.

The work environment in the AEC space is fluid right now with a number of factors impacting our productivity, our culture and of course the built environment. Gen Z will bring a new set of factors to the jobsite that will challenge our most creative minds to solve.

Here are a couple of our earlier posts on generational changes.

We would welcome your thoughts and comments.