What Firms Should Know About Gen Z and Millennials

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With the accounting profession still facing a shortage of new talent and scores of baby boomer CPAs set to retire, it is more critical than ever for accounting firm leaders to do all they can to fill the talent pipeline.

Over the last decade that meant trying to decipher the Millennials—all 80 million of them. What did they want from their first job? What benefits would incentivize them to join a firm? How could firms not only retain them, but encourage them to grow into management roles?

Now, these same accounting firm leaders will have to crack the code of the next generation—the younger and even larger Gen Z. How will they be different from the Millennials? What are they looking for in a career? What do firm leaders need to do to attract them and develop their talent?

“The most competitive companies should already have their eye on Gen Z or else risk missing out on potential employees in the future,” says Kathy Gans, senior vice president at staffing solutions firm Adecco USA.

“With a shallow pool of accounting talent available to meet the demands of today’s labor market, Gen Z’ers will bring a fresh wave of talent and perspective to the modern workplace,” Gans says. “Attracting and retaining this new generation will require leaders to appreciate what makes them tick, and further, to figure out where they fit in to today’s multigenerational workplace.”

To better understand Gen Z, in 2015 Adecco conducted a survey of 1,001 college students or recent college grads to determine the differences between Gen Z and Millennials, and how these differences would soon play into the job market.

Of those surveyed, 557 were Millennials (defined as those born between 1980 and 1995) and 444 were members of Gen Z (defined as those born after 1995). Today, Gans says, the oldest of this Gen Z group are just now entering the workforce. “In a few years’ time, they’ll be influencing work as we know it, much like their Millennial counterparts are right now,” Gans said.

The survey, gauged sentiment on everything from what each generation looks for in their first job to their long term career and life aspirations—issues critical to accounting firm leaders who want to anticipate any potential disruption that may come with a new generation joining the labor market; as well as those who hope to build and maintain productive and harmonious teams.

Here are some of the highlights of the survey as well as some insight as to how Gen Z will impact the next generation of accounting firms.

Concerns and Aspirations About the Future

When it comes to their concerns about the future, the survey found the ability to find a job was a top concern (32 percent) among both generations, followed by the cost of education (16 percent), and personal financial health (13 percent). Gen Z was slightly more concerned (21 percent) about the cost of education then Millennials (13 percent). Only one percent of both generations were concerned about having health insurance provided by their employer.

Gans finds it significant that Gen Z respondents were more concerned about the cost of education than Millennials. “This could be especially true for accounting majors who plan to pursue higher education,” Gans says. “To attract and keep these skilled individuals, firms may want to consider tuition reimbursement plan.”

In terms of their aspirations after college, overall 31 percent of students said financial stability is their greatest aspiration, while 28 percent said being in their “dream job” is their greatest aspiration. Thirty-two percent of Gen Z says finding their dream job was their top aspiration in the next 10 years, however, while the top priority for Millennials was financial stability (34 percent).

“Interestingly,” Gans notes. “Gen Z’ers were more motivated to find their dream job after college than to get married or achieve financial stability – aspirations that historically have resonated with older generations. Keeping this in mind, firms should continue to enhance their company culture to better engage Gen Z candidates who are looking for a job that aligns with their values.”

Because Gen Z places more weight on finding passion at work than Millennials, who are most concerned with financial stability, Gans adds, Gen Z'ers may not be sold on compensation packages alone. Instead, they may seek more alternative benefits, like flex hours, collaborative workspaces or team volunteer days to flesh out their dream job.

What Do They Want From Their First Job

Respondents were also asked what they wanted from their first professional job, a factor of great interest to accounting firm leaders hoping to attract new recruits.

For both generations opportunity for career growth was their top priority at their first professional job, coming in at 36 percent; followed by a tie between fulfilling work and stability (both at19 percent);  a friendly work environment (10 percent); a flexible schedule (7 percent); the highest salary (6 percent); and corporate and social responsibility programs (1 percent).

Forty-one percent of Millennials, who were already in the workforce at the time of the survey, said they wanted a first job with “an opportunity for growth” compared to Gen Z (30 percent).

The fact that both generations listed career growth as a top priority means firms should not hesitate to highlight any internal training programs they offer, including mentorship programs, leadership workshops, and lunch-and-learns. “Young people are looking for a company that is invested in developing its future leaders,” Gans says.

Also, just because friendly work environments and flex schedules didn’t top the list of priorities for first jobs, doesn’t mean, however, Gans says, that accounting firms should forgo investing in these benefits.

“These programs are absolutely worth looking at when it comes to Gen Z recruits,” Gans says. “As more firms refresh their company culture, we’re seeing that these unique offerings are not only appealing to young professionals, but they’re becoming an expectation.”

How Recruits Find Your Firm

Finally, the survey offers some valuable information into how these generations look for work. With Gen Z it appears there is some renewed interest in using personal connections, including their parent’s connections, as well as social networking connections, when it comes to finding a job.

According to the survey, online job boards (31percent) and university career centers 29 percent are still the job search tools of choice for both of these generations. Eighteen percent said they also use personal networks/friends to find a job; followed by professional associations and industry groups (5 percent); social networks (5 percent); and “other” — a collection of staffing agencies, employment services, and recruiters (7 percent).

Millennials, however, were significantly more likely to use online job boards (34 percent) than Gen Z (27 percent), while Gen Z put more focus on their personal connections and those of their parents (28 percent) than their Millennial counterparts (20 percent).

With Gen Z more likely to search among their personal connections, firms can get in front of these candidates early on by partnering with area schools to participate in or host networking events, Gans suggests. Hiring managers should also consider keeping their own personal connections informed of entry-level job opportunities, as many Gen Z'ers are inclined to ask friends and parents if they know of any openings.

Because Gen Z is less likely to use an online job board than Millennials, Gans says hiring managers should consider bringing their recruitment efforts to social media platforms like LinkedIn, where numerous talented, young professionals are already searching for jobs. “These young people have grown up in that space and many are already utilizing it for professional purposes,” Gans says.

She also believes hiring managers should remember Gen Z has grown up in the age of the Smartphone and may prefer a more informal, yet efficient, way to communicate, such as text messaging. “This approach is more commonly being used in the workplace and even during the interview process,” Gans says. 

Once Gen Z is in the door and on your team, the work is just beginning. Gans says HR managers in all professions, including accounting firm leaders, will have to hit talent retention head on if they hope to hold on to these next gen recruits and move them into management.

“Gen Z are looking for the total package as they consider a company, meaning workplace culture will be crucial to attracting these candidates and ensuring they stick around,” Gans says. “Firms that offer out-of-the-box benefits and strong core values – especially those that tie back to social responsibility – will stand out amongst the competition.”

To view an infographic on the Adecco survey click here.

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About Deanna Arteaga

Deanna White

Deanna Arteaga is a professional freelance writer and public relations specialist who for the past six years has covered CPA industry trends for AccountingWEB. She also writes about CPA firm marketing, higher education and professional development for CPAs, and workplace trends in the accounting profession. She has more than 20 years of journalism and public relations experience, including her tenure as a former newspaper reporter in suburban Chicago where she covered breaking news, municipal politics, and state legislative issues.

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