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What to Know About Hiring Gen Z to Your Firm

Nov 1st 2017
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With the first wave of Gen Z college grads poised to enter the workforce, managers across all industries have begun to focus their attention on this newest generation of recruits. And there’s good reason for that.

This generation, consisting of those born after 1995, makes up a massive 25.9 percent of the population, with nearly 72.8 million individuals counted among its ranks. By 2020, Gen Z will comprise nearly one-third of the U.S. population, according to some estimates.

So who is Gen Z? What are their beliefs and values about work and the world? How will they reshape the way we do our jobs? And, for accounting firm leaders in particular, what do we need to offer as employers to draw top Gen Z talent to our doors?

EY (formerly Ernst & Young) recently gained insight into some of the key employment priorities of Gen Z when it surveyed more than 1600 Gen Z interns from 29 countries at its 21st annual International Intern Leadership Conference (IILC). The survey, conducted this summer, was designed to gauge Gen Z sentiment around the future of work as they enter the workforce.

Gen Z, they found, is optimistic about their future as they begin to enter the workforce. In fact, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of EY Gen Z interns surveyed by the firm feel confident they will be better off, both financially and in happiness at work, than their parents- a key demarcation from their Millennial predecessors.

The growing feeling that employers today are more in tune with employee needs is a factor contributing to this optimistic outlook, alongside the prevalence of new technologies such as automation, robotics, and AI. Gen Z-ers feel that these technologies will allow employees to focus more on adding value to their work and increasing productivity.

Key findings from the survey regarding Gen Z’s employment preferences and priorities include:

  • Ambition is prevalent and flexibility important: When asked what they prioritize most when looking for an employer, the majority of respondents (84 percent) cite potential for career progression and growth. This far surpasses salary (1 percent), work abroad opportunities (24 percent) and competitive maternity and paternity leave benefits (16 percent). Flexibility is also a key priority for this generation, with 50 percent citing this as one of their key priorities when looking for an employer.
  • New technologies will enhance job satisfaction and productivity: Three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) agree that new technologies will evolve the nature of work that they do. Two-thirds (66 percent) think that these new technologies will actually enable them to increase their productivity and over half (52 percent) think it will allow them to focus on more interesting and ‘value added’ work (52 percent). Only 17 percent of respondents think new technologies will actually decrease the number of jobs available to them.
  • Job satisfaction is just as, if not more, important to Gen Z than money: Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) say that job satisfaction and financial stability are equally important. More males (54 percent) than females (42 percent) prefer financial stability (15 percent total).
  • Gen Z is confident that employers are in tune with their needs: The majority of respondents who say that they think they will be better off than their parents attribute this feeling towards a stronger understanding by employers around their employees’ needs (31 percent). Twenty-seven percent say this is because flexibility is more of a priority for the incoming generation; 16 percent say that employers know that Gen Z will be quick to switch jobs if they grow dissatisfied.

The survey also found also found Gen Z-ers have the most inclusive mindset to date. Over three-quarters of respondents (84 percent) say that their ability to work well with people from different backgrounds and cultures is a key skill that sets them apart from older job candidates. More than two-thirds (67 percent) said they prefer to work with millennial managers.

Growth is Key

Given the fact that “career progression and growth” are key priorities for Gen Z, accounting firms that want to compete for Gen Z talent will have to position themselves to offer more than just monetary success, says said Larry Nash, Ernst & Young LLP’s U.S. Recruiting Leader. They’ll also have to provide a culture that supports professional development.

 “For Gen Z, career progression isn’t just about a promotion or raise; it is about the meaningful skillsets and professional growth they will experience during the day-to-day of their jobs,” Nash says. “With 52 percent of Gen Z believing that new technologies will allow them to focus on more interesting and ‘value added’ work, it is evident that this generation is passionate about investing their time in more purposeful, strategic work.”

Professional services firms can adapt to this mindset by creating programs that allow their people to grow these future-focused skills, Nash says. EY, for example, recently launched its EY Badges program, which allows employees to earn digital badges for their attainment of “hot skills” such as analytics and AI.

Tech Must Pave Way for Meaningful Work

Another takeaway from the survey for accounting firm leaders is the fact that Gen Z firmly expects new technologies like AI to eliminate rote and mundane tasks and replace them with more value-added and meaningful assignments. Firms that want to attract and retain Gen Z talent will have to embrace this progressive view of technology.

 “Our survey found that two-thirds (66 percent) of Gen Z believe that new technologies will enable them to increase their productivity at work,” Nash says. “At EY, we are actively looking at ways to enhance our capabilities and processes through the adoption of new technologies, methods and strategies. It is important for future accounting firm leaders to take this into account, and meet the needs of the evolving workforce by leveraging new technologies to replace repetitive, tedious work with investments in emerging tools and skillsets.”

Flexibility is Paramount  

It’s not enough to simply provide more meaningful work to Gen Z employees, however. If accounting firms hope to be Gen Z-friendly they also need to be flexibility-friendly because, as the survey found, flexibility is key for Gen Z.

“With 50 percent of Gen Z citing flexibility as one of their key priorities when looking for an employer, it is imperative that firms structure their workforce accordingly,” Nash says.

 In line with these findings, EY’s  Global Generations 2.0 study found that workplace flexibility, including parental leave, is very important to women and men, with 34 percent of men and 30 percent of women stating that they would walk away from a job if day-to-day flexibility was not offered. “We have found that flexibility isn’t about working less, it’s about working smarter, and companies need to empower their people to work flexibly,” Nash says.

A Singular Optimism

Most research seems to indicate that Millennials and Gen Z share similar values, hence Gen Z’s preference for millennial managers in this survey, Nash says. But, if you think Gen Z is simply the Millennials 2.0 you’d be mistaken.

Gen Z is set apart by its hallmark optimism. Compared to their millennial counterparts, the majority of Gen Z respondents think they will be better off than their parents, believing that employers are in tune with their people’s needs, Nash says.

“This overwhelming sense of optimism for the workforce of the future is unique to Gen Z, where they seek to be part of an organization that gives them a sense of purpose and to leave something better for future generations,” Nash says. “EY has learned firsthand that Gen Z are assertive and confident when it comes to work, actively seeking opportunities that provide both flexibility and a clear growth trajectory.”

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