Our next cadre of recruits – known as Gen Z’ers – are very different than even the youngest of the millennial generation. They have curiously circled back to even before baby boomers – they want to be proud of the organization they work for. Unlike their much-older predecessors, though, they want their work to be interesting and meaningful. They want to be passionate about what they do. They expect to be working in an environment of continuous learning. They expect to find joy in their work.
Considering those career priorities, we may not be set up for success. For example, we use contingent labor and service providers for many roles, reducing access to the training, career development and benefits that we all took for granted. The highly motivated young ones have been raised to study hard and build a strong personal brand, so rewarding them with poorly paid internships will not be very satisfying.
While these challenges may not be unique to the technology sector, today’s IT leaders need to step up to prepare and insulate entry-level employees if we want them to find satisfying paths considering STEM careers.
Research suggests that our junior-most employees will work well into their 70s, if not longer. As we plan toward our retirement adventures, we can – and should – take a little time to give back. As leaders, we can make sure the entry level staffs under our direction get the chance to find their joy.
I recently mentored a second-year computer engineer working as an intern in my team. When he arrived for his co-op term, he had no idea what he wanted after grad except that he wanted interesting work, potential for growth and work-life balance. Four years of engineering study is a lot of time, effort and student debt to be invested for someone aiming for nothing specific, so we set out to use the summer to help him with his career analysis.
I did not change our young intern’s work assignments, but I did engage the entire team to take on specific mentoring with him. We specifically set out to help him learn more about what he wanted to be building toward in three ways:
- We gave him assignments that involved lots of team interaction and assignments where he needed to work on his own. As an engineering student, he was surprised to learn that he prefers to be away from his desk and working with people.
- We assigned him to some activities that involved technology-oriented research and testing offset by work that demanded business-oriented research and analysis. He found the business work empowering, and learned that he preferred to think about the business case and outcomes behind each technology initiative even more than thinking about technical specifics.
- We gave him some small projects that he could ‘own’ from requirements to delivery. He really liked the feeling of delivering something, so that became part of his vision to leverage his engineering training.
As my weekly time with him evolved over the summer, we explored career opportunities that he had never considered. We also introduced him to supportive mentors, so he could start to really talk about what would bring him joy. He explored private equity and banking, and thought maybe tech sector private equity would leverage his engineering. He explored accounting as a post-graduate, as a structured next step to support his interest in how you run a business. And he explored tech companies and product development, as the logical extension of his chosen education program.
I prioritized time for our young intern every week. We talked about what he had learned, and what he thought it meant for his career planning. When he went back to school he had an enviable cadre of mentors and references, and he was ready to give some critical thought to what he might want to do when he graduates. I’m proud to say that he put last summer to good use, and he has decided this summer to be part of a product development team. He is differentiating his work, though, by joining a small but very professional tech startup, where he has the opportunity to work as part of a team, deliver concrete results, and to be close to and learn more about what it takes to build and run a business.
I am proud of my team – we served this young fellow well.
It behooves us to put in the extra effort to foster an environment where this young generation has the chance to find the work they love.