3 Training Strategies Companies Can Use to Attract and Retain Generation Z

To successfully attract and retain Generation Z, companies must not only address Gen Zers’ learning preferences, but also provide opportunities for them to grow as the workplace continues to change.

The newest generation—Generation Z—is already entering the workforce and causing companies to take notice. Comprising individuals born after 1996, Gen Z is poised to make up nearly one-fourth of the global workforce by 2020. Along with its impressive size, Gen Z possesses unique qualities that have important implications for learning and development in the workplace. Gen Zers are digital natives with a strong preference for learning that incorporates the newest technology. In addition, having grown up with social media, they are also particularly open to interactive learning opportunities that enable new ways to connect with and learn from others.

Generation Z is also unique because of the time at which its members are entering the workforce. Today’s companies move faster than ever before, and new technology has led to the creation of jobs that didn’t exist even a decade ago. Owing to its career ambition and digital mindset, Generation Z is uniquely positioned to leverage new technology and lead organizations into the future. To successfully attract and retain Generation Z, companies must not only address Gen Zers’ learning preferences, but also provide opportunities for them to grow as the workplace continues to change. Here are three considerations for training the latest generation of talent:

1. Link Learning with Career Pathways

For Generation Z talent, learning must be linked to career outcomes, and more specifically, opportunities for advancement and career growth. Perhaps because of the ballooning cost of a college education, Generation Z talent is naturally attracted to employers that offer training that will help them quickly advance and increase their earning power along the way. Generation Z talent wants to begin learning on the job immediately. In an Accenture survey of recent college graduates, 84 percent said they expected their first employer to provide formal training.

There is another reason to link Gen Z learning with career growth: Without additional, relevant training, Gen Zers won’t be prepared to take on roles that eventually will be vacated by older workers. Hiring managers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) said that while recent undergraduates have the skills required for entry-level jobs, they don’t have the skills and knowledge necessary for career advancement. Examples of training that can help Gen Z bridge the gap from college to long-term career advancement include:

  • Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and graduate degree programs
  • Bootcamps that build depth in a particular discipline such as coding
  • Job-specific certification programs
  • Industry-specific learning communities (as in the case of a large health system that joined forces with a university network to provide professional development in the health industry)

2. Consider College Degree Alternatives

Many companies list a college degree as a requirement for a range of positions, from engineer to analyst to salesperson. However, there is evidence pointing to a growing Generation Z preference for career preparation and development through means other than a college degree. Generation Zers have many educational options, from online degrees to trade school, and they’re exploring those options in ways not available to previous generations.

The availability of college alternatives doesn’t mean employers have to miss out on attracting Generation Z talent. In fact, certain alternatives can provide more access to young talent than ever before. Apprenticeship programs, for example, provide a reliable way for companies to recruit skilled young talent. As pointed out in a recent Forbes article, 70 percent of high school graduates in Switzerland enter apprenticeships in fields such as IT, banking, and health care. Organizations that want to develop a competitive advantage in attracting and developing young talent should consider candidates who pursue college degree alternatives such as apprenticeship programs, fellowship programs, or accelerated online workshops like altMBA or UnCollege. 

3. Leverage Newer Technology

As the first generation that has never lived without smartphones, Generation Z is hardwired to expect digital technology to play a role in just about everything they do. When it comes to training and development, there are many ways to engage young talent in learning and even make it fun. 

Unsurprisingly, a survey of corporate trainers revealed that the training method most preferred by Generation Z in the workplace is learning via mobile app. The survey also found that Generation Z employees have a high preference for gamified learning, but only 23 percent of companies use it. To translate learning content into a format that is familiar and engaging for young talent, organizations will need to look beyond traditional classroom training and leverage technology in new ways. Some examples include:

  • Virtual reality: Many Gen Zers already are using this learning tool in high school and college settings.
  • Social learning: Building a social community around learning content mirrors the social media environment preferred by Gen Z.
  • Video: Gen Z loves video. According to a study by Pearson, YouTube is Gen Z’s most preferred learning tool. 

Like previous generations, Gen Zers value workplace training as a tool for achieving their career goals. Their unique preferences, combined with the need to build employee skills in a rapidly changing workplace, means that companies today must use a new approach and incorporate new technology to attract and develop young talent.

Taha Bawa is chief executive officer and co-founder of Goodwall, the social career platform that helps companies connect with and hire the new generation of talent. Bawa leads the company’s strategy and team. He lived in five countries by the age of 11 and studied economics in college. He has been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, is a WEF Global Shaper, and co-creator of Timbo’s Tales. He has spoken on education and innovation at conferences, such as TEDx, Talks at Google, and the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS); and universities, including MIT. 

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