Posted July 18, 2017 by Mark Perna
Generation Z, born roughly starting in 1996, is shaping up to become one of the most entrepreneurial generational cohorts in our history. With a recent Gallup poll indicating that nearly 80% want to be their own boss someday, we’re going to see massive shifts in the workplace, the training market, and the way young people approach their professional lives.
On the face of it, the news of Generation Z’s strongly independent and enterprising nature could seem less than positive for American companies already struggling to fill skilled positions. Our national skills gap—the rift between the skills employers need and what workers can actually do—is only growing. To hear that the available talent pool could be shrinking even further due to entrepreneurial pursuits is hardly heartening. Or is it?
I have always taken a positive view of our younger generations because I believe that they are capable of truly great things. The entrepreneurial spirit of Generation Z is just one example of the many exceptional traits they possess. Far from being a negative thing for American business, this generation’s entrepreneurial bent presents a great opportunity for companies to understand what makes them tick and how to capture their imagination as both consumers and contributors.
Entrepreneurship is an appealing option for many members of Generation Z who witnessed the unemployment struggles of their parents and siblings during 2008’s economic downturn. Hardworking and motivated, many are being encouraged to get professional experience at younger ages by their parents, who don’t want to see their kids encounter the same employment turmoil they may have experienced. As a result, this generation is motivated to achieve economic security. And many want to take it into their own hands.
Yet while Gen Z is generally more paycheck-conscious than the Millennials, it’s not just about the money. Through their businesses and nonprofits, many entrepreneurial Gen Zers are seeking to solve social issues and needs. They want to use their professional lives to make the world a better place.
This isn’t new; the Millennials were the first to voice the desire to work toward a vision, not just a salary. With Generation Z also holding this ideal, it’s more critical than ever for businesses to connect their offerings to a social vision of improving quality of life in some way for their communities, regions, and around the globe.
If your product or service is not directly marketable as a meaningful improvement for social conditions, there’s a lot you can achieve through consistent community presence. Whether it’s sponsoring community projects, participating in food, clothing, and blood drives, or any of a number of unique ways to make an impact, your company’s involvement in the arena it serves is a powerful statement. It’s all about giving back, and making this a core value will attract likeminded young people who admire that vision and want to take part in it.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel strategy remains a powerful motivating force for Generation Z. The Light is the goal, the vision and lifestyle they can achieve as a result of doing the work of going through the Tunnel. Keeping younger workers focused on the Light—however they define it—is one of the biggest retention strategies that today’s businesses can deploy.
For many, the attraction of running their own business is not necessarily in the business ownership itself, but in the flexibility and freedom they envision as part of that lifestyle. The rise of the work-life blend versus the work-life balance is a trend that companies will do well to embrace by giving their people as much autonomy as possible over work schedules and tasks. The Light here for many younger workers is freedom from the traditional, rigid 9–5 schedule and flexibility to perform their work at their pace and on their time. They’ll get it done—because they believe in it.
Earlier I called Generation Z “contributors” rather than “employees.” It might be semantics (after all, if they work at your company they’re technically your employees) but it does provide insight on how they view themselves on the job. Today’s younger generations don’t work for you—they work with you. They contribute their talents, ideas, abilities, and insights to your business in return for compensation, rather than merely performing assigned tasks as previous generations have done. Today, this perspective is foundational at companies that possess a strong recruitment and retention culture—where entrepreneurial-spirited young people experience the freedom to perform at their highest level.