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Karen Dwyer: 2014 Graduates and What They Bring to the Workplace

Commencement season is almost here, and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 3.4 million students will graduate high school and more than 1.8 million bachelor degrees will be earned by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

With that many recent graduates entering the workplace, whether by way of summer jobs, internships or entry-level positions, business leaders who understand what motivates this younger generation are poised to gain more from their strengths.

Obviously, every individual is different and brings a unique perspective to the workplace. But there are commonalities within age groups that can help employers better understand, communicate with and manage employees. This year it is especially important for business leaders to know what to expect, because the workforce is beginning to see the last of one generation and the beginning of another generation make their initial entries into the workplace.

Wrapping Up Generation Y

By now, you’re probably fairly familiar with Gen Y, also known as Millennials. Born between 1980 and 1995, this group has been in the workforce for quite some time and has received quite a bit of attention over its differences from past generations. In general, the college graduates of 2014 were born in 1992, placing them near the end of the Millennial Generation.

According to Forbes, a survey of graduating college students revealed exactly what employers can expect from the class of 2014. “Students graduating this year are on the hunt for companies and managers that will give them feedback, rewards and the opportunity to grow,” the Forbes article reported.

These Millennials are also known for being technologically savvy, desiring work-life balance and changing jobs often. In fact, many have quickly earned promotions. The Economist equates this rapid advancement to “their demands to be treated meritocratically, their appetite for responsibility and their unwillingness to hang around if they do not get what they want.”

Millennials have gotten their fair share of negative publicity during the past few years. One of Gen Y’s greatest flaws was highlighted by Forbes. “Millennials are not only the most educated generation in history, but are also the least experienced.” And, with the increasing skills gap, this is bad news for both new grads and employers.

However, the general desire among Millennials for mentorship is the perfect opportunity for businesses to come alongside their new hires and build the skills that are lacking. Rich Floersch, head of human resources at McDonalds, told The Economist, “Some of the things that supposedly make Generation Y different have been exaggerated. ... They are irked by the myths of having a sense of entitlement, having poor communication skills and being job-hoppers. If they find a company that offers challenging work, a sense of purpose and development, they will stay.” This is helpful information for employers still trying to learn what this generation really wants.

Introducing Generation Z

While there is still some debate on the name and year range of the newest generation on the job scene, the general consensus is that Gen Z was born between 1995 and 2010. This year’s high school graduates were, on average, born in 1995, which makes them the first group of their generation that will enter the workforce. Whether your business plans to hire any recent high school grads or not, this new generation of employees is on the horizon, and employers have a lot to learn.

Tammy Erickson and her consulting firm have studied Gen Z, or the “Re-Generation” as they’ve named it, in-depth. She believes “the consumer habits and collective personality traits of the Re-Gens could be indicative of what they're going to be like as professionals.” In an interview with business management publication Workforce, Erickson pointed to this newest generation’s concern with environmental issues, heightened sense of global responsibility, and fiscal conservatism as important characteristics that will impact their career goals and work performance.

Labeled “the most entrepreneurial generation we’ve ever seen” by Entrepreneur, Re-Gens are considered even more ambitious than Millennials and more focused on working for themselves. Entrepreneur also named them “the most tech savvy, connected and self-educated group,” who has always had immediate access to mentors and education through the Internet. This means they will also have extremely low tolerance to being “digitally cut off” and be quick to share their opinions and grievances online, USA Today pointed out.

Studies from Blaze Research, a team of anthropologists, psychologists and statisticians in Australia, concur. Sara Garcia, principal of Blaze, explained, “This generation has been on the Internet since birth and research has found it has rewired their brains, made them impatient, hyperstimulated and multitaskers. They get bored easily, they’ll want change.”

Other common traits associated with Gen Z are a realistic outlook, inquisitive mindset and global awareness. While referring to how brands can reach Gen Z as consumers, the information from Blaze Research can also be applied to employers. According to its research, this generation expects ethical behavior, no sense of pretense and complete honesty. These are important factors for business leaders to keep in mind when the time comes to recruit and retain Gen Z employees.

Get Ready

If the current struggle of juggling the four generations in the workplace — traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X-ers, Millennials — wasn’t difficult enough, this next group of recently graduated, soon-to-be workers will add yet another level of complexity. As the final wave of Millennials begin to make their debut into the workforce, there will be even more pressure to cater to their desires and motivations. Plus, a whole new generation with its own needs, wants, strengths and weaknesses will begin arriving on the scene.

While it does take time, effort and sometimes money to understand and incorporate each generation’s values into your business structure, it can pay off in the end as you reap the benefits of a diverse, motivated and engaged workforce.

— Karen Dwyer is owner of Express Employment Professionals, 1025 Chapala St., Suite 206, in Santa Barbara. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. Click here to contact her or call 805.965.6900.

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