This spring, the second class of pandemic-era college graduates began entering the job market. The rapid shift to remote work created a new set of challenges for Generation Z and younger Millennials on top of existing concerns about their ability to exhibit the soft skills necessary for success.
According to an employer survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU), the biggest gaps are in critical thinking, data analysis and interpretation, and applying knowledge to real-world settings.
At a time when it’s more crucial than ever for businesses to be flexible and think critically about every part of their operations, these skills gaps could present real challenges to recruiting in both the short and long term. Beyond the skills gaps, employers are also grappling with how to accommodate Millennial and Gen Z preferences for remote work and ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19.
Let’s take a look at these hurdles and how they might impact the hiring process in the months and years to come.
As the knowledge economy expands, the need for critical thinking is more important than ever. Problems in emerging areas rarely have pre-defined solutions or easy answers like a college assignment. But an increasing focus on standardized tests and pressure to get good grades all the time leads to a tendency among younger workers to focus on getting the “right” answer. And they tend to focus more on pleasing their supervisor, rather than thinking for themselves about what’s going on.
Beyond that, we now live in a world where a device in your pocket can give you answers to everything you need. Why think about how to get from point A to point B when Google Maps can tell you exactly where to go? Or why think about doing math when you can pull out a calculator anytime you need one?
These conveniences are not inherently a bad thing, but they do change habits over time and can make it more difficult to perform in situations where technology does not provide a clear-cut answer. Make critical thinking a part of your hiring process, whether through a formal test or interview questions that bring those skills into play.
According to the AACU survey, more than 60% of employers say it’s very important for employees to demonstrate self-confidence and the ability to take initiative. Again, these skills are sometimes overlooked in academic and social settings that reward fitting in or not speaking up, rather than expressing thoughts and ideas in a constructive way.
Colleges are doing more to encourage the development of these skills through active learning, but employers can play a role here, too. Managers should give clear expectations for projects and tasks to be completed and offer recognition for a job well done. Organizations should also understand what an employee’s personal goals are and how those goals align with the company’s, then take steps to align the two throughout recruitment and retention.
Over time, these small actions will help Gen Z and Millennial employees feel that they can speak up and take ownership of their work with confidence. It will also minimize the fear of negative repercussions for not getting the “right” answer all the time.
While young workers might face barriers to entry when it comes to getting hired, they also feel a greater sense of autonomy about where and how they work — something that presents its own set of challenges for hiring. According to a recent Jobseeker Nation survey, 35% of candidates have declined or would decline a job that did not have any remote work options. In addition, 74% said remote work figures prominently into their decision to take a job.
These statistics are not specific to Gen Z and Millennials, but they do reflect an attitude among younger workers that a company’s culture should closely match their own as work plays a large role in someone’s identity. And, if someone’s first work experiences were entirely remote, they might not see the value in working inside an office at all.
Company culture around diversity, equity, and inclusion is also a bigger priority for young workers, with nearly half of candidates inquiring about diversity goals during interviews. In fact, 42% said they would decline a job offer from an organization that lacked diversity or did not have clear goals for improving it.
If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that now might be the perfect time to throw the old playbook out the window. With the world having gone through a major upheaval, so has the recruitment landscape. This applies to finding and working with young employees who have both different needs from their employer and different expectations about what their companies will offer them.
Now is the perfect time to talk with your Gen Z and Millennial employees if you have not already and make sure their voices are heard throughout the hiring process. They can help assess candidate strengths from a realistic perspective and speak to the concerns their peers express about company culture and values.
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