The Workforce Potential of Gen Z

September 25, 2019

As a site selection consultancy for capital-, labor- and resource-intensive businesses, Global Location Strategies invests an enormous amount of time and resources studying workforce issues to help companies find locations that fill the pipeline of workers they need for long-term success. Aided by advanced software developed and maintained by a team of expert economists and statisticians, our comprehensive labor analysis identifies unique workforce characteristics within targeted communities and provides accurate, reliable, and insightful data that describes current industry and demographic trends, and targeted occupation and labor market information. This gives company decision-makers evidence that a region’s workforce has the skills they need so they can make appropriate business expansion decisions. 

As Baby Boomers quickly fade from the workforce and the oldest Gen Xer’s inch toward retirement, Millennials have taken front and center as the primary generational workforce to pursue. Much has been studied and reported on Millennials, but in order to effectively compete in the technologically advanced workplace of the future, innovative companies must prepare for a NextGen workforce.   

Enter Gen Z
Centennials, (also known as Gen Z), are the generation immediately preceding Millennials. According to Kantar Consultants, the seminal strategic insight and innovation company, the first Gen Z’s were born in 1997 and continues through present day, which means it is made up of anyone 22 years old or younger. According to this article in Bloomberg, there are 61 million Gen Z’s in the U.S. alone, making them a larger cohort than Baby Boomers or Millennials. 

Among their unique characteristics, Gen Z is the first generation to have Internet technology readily available since the day they were born. With the web revolution that occurred throughout the 1990s, they have been exposed to an unprecedented amount of technology in their upbringing, and the exponential growth of mobile devices means a vast majority of them have held a supercomputer in their hands – whether their own, a parents or a siblings – since they were practically old enough to talk. A 2015 article from the Pew Research Center stated that “nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone and 30% have a basic phone, while just 12% of teens 13 to 15 say they have no cell phone of any type.” These numbers have only risen since then and the fact that the majority own a cell phone has become one of this generations defining characteristics. Without a doubt, they bring a level of sophistication with digital technology that is unsurpassed. 

Another interesting fact about Gen Z’s is they have been raised amid unceasing volatility. Those born in 1997 and 1998 likely have some recollection of the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war in Afghanistan. The United States has been at war ever since, so Centennials in the U.S. do not know life without war at hand. Those that are currently in high school and college also vividly remember the economic turbulence of the 2007 Great Recession that had most of their parents fraught with worry and that made panic a new norm. Because of this, Generation Z believes the American Dream is a moving target. This helps explain why they are always after the next iteration of things. Coupled with their natural ease of technology, those that make up Generation Z are interested in rewriting the rules of the digital game, which is fantastic news for business innovation. 

The Upshot of Internships
Although many of us at GLS have children who are part of Generation Z, we have only recently had the opportunity to work side-by-side with them in our company. Every summer, GLS hires college interns to add a shot of energy and youthful enthusiasm to the team, and to provide a meaningful work experience that helps guide them toward making smart career choices. 

The first intern we ever hired was Monty Turner in 2009. Today he is a Principal and VP of Operations for GLS. Several years later he was followed by John Longshore who is now Principal and VP of Innovation. Both of these Millennials have emerged as highly talented site selection consultants who are well respected by their clients and their industry peers. Several other former interns have gone on to consulting careers with Keybridge, Deloitte, Common and other outstanding companies. Over the years we seem to have developed a knack for identifying and grooming stellar talent, and this summer proved no different. 

Once more this summer, we were fortunate to have two outstanding interns work with us: Megan Rizzi and Derek Barnes. As members of Generation Z, these two outstanding Furman University students gave our team at GLS a first-hand account of the promising opportunities that await the near future workforce of the world. We say “world” because Gen Z’s as a whole are intuitively positioned to grasp the concept and needs of global commerce.  Workplace consultant and author Alexandra Levit writes in this New York Times article that as a result of the social media and technology they are accustomed to, Generation Z is well prepared for a global business environment. Other researchers have found that Gen Z’s want a feeling of fulfillment and excitement in their job that helps move the world forward.
Megan and Derek strategically supported the GLS team with our two-fold purpose of : 1) guiding location decisions for manufacturing and industrial companies such that there is mutual, reliable, and long-term prosperity for both the company and their new community, and 2) helping economic development organizations create multigenerational economic impact for their communities by preparing and attracting global investment. 

Within the scope of site selection, the GLS team solves complex location requirements and often develops creative solutions for companies that need intensive support from communities in terms of workforce, logistics, energy, and water.  To further analyze the needs of our client sectors and help us better position our location strategy services, Derek worked under the guidance of our Strategic Development Director, Susan Donkers Franklin, to create industry sector analyses.  Over the course of the summer, he produced 10 industry sector research reports, each containing current industry data, manufacturing methodologies, major products, market size and growth, workforce requirements, employment clusters, site selection criteria, future trends, overall potential, and challenges. Not only did we glean new and valuable sector insights from Derek’s reports, they will also serve as an easily accessible statistical resource for content we share on our website, in industry publications, and beyond. The 10 sectors of focus were:

  • Aerospace
  • Forest Products
  • Chemicals & Petrochemicals
  • Composites & Advanced Materials
  • Mission Critical Facilities
  • Food & Beverage
  • Automotive
  •  Life Sciences
  • Clean Technology
  • Metals 

On the economic advisory side of our business, Megan worked under the guidance of GLS Consultant Tess Fay, who leads our team in this specialty service area. To help prepare economic development organizations to attract global investment, GLS provides solutions such as workforce analysis, site and community assessment, and target industry subsector studies. One of the most important projects Megan undertook for us this summer was to import data from Area Development’s annual “Gold and Silver Shovel Award’s” issue and layer it into our proprietary U.S. site data. Although tedious, this data hygiene process is immensely important to having an accurate account of the industrial and workforce clusters throughout the U.S. and an accurate reading on foreign investment, i.e., which countries are investing manufacturing operations in the U.S. and where, and in which industrial sectors. The insights we gain by layering in this additional data produces more precision in our research and confidence in the results we produce for the companies we serve. 

Although we want to be careful about characterizing any generation as a whole, both Megan and Derek personified the commonly agreed upon Gen Z traits of being loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded, responsible, and determined. They each attacked their assignments with enthusiasm and pursued them with a genuine spirit of collaboration and teamwork to meet a unified end goal. They also introduced our team to new tips and uses of some of the technologies we use every day that has resulted in greater efficiency in our jobs. 

Lessons Learned
So, what did we gain by investing in a couple of exceptionally bright Gen Z’s this summer? Most importantly, it provided us with empirical evidence to recognize what companies and organizations must do now to fill the talent pipeline of tomorrow. This generation is eager to work and to develop more productive ways of realizing outcomes. As assigned members of a collective team and given the purpose of their role and responsibility, Gen Z’s will produce results. 

It will be up to educators to keep regular tabs with industry executives to ensure they are teaching students relevant subject matter with relevant tools. Ask companies what software programs they use for daily tasks and the emerging technologies that are being embraced throughout various industries. Those are the tools students must learn to use in middle school, high school, and college so that they are even minimally prepared to be productive in the workforce. 

On the employer side of the equation, companies that wish to take advantage of Gen Z talent in the future should develop relationships today with middle and high schoolers. Get into their schools, provide mentorship and education, and put yourself in a position to help shape their career decisions. We also advise establishing Gen Z internship programs. We did, and the insights we gained have created a launching pad for deeper data dives into this emerging workforce that will help perfect our analyses for capital-, labor-, and resource-intensive manufacturers and economic development organizations. 

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