What Do Gen Z Workers Value?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Key life experiences of Gen Z—a recession, a pandemic, and vast social unrest—have led members of this generation to some common workplace values.
Megan Gerhardt, Professor of Management at Farmer School of Business, Miami University
  • There are commonalities and differences with every generation, such as the need for respect.
  • Gen Z places value in being passionate and vocal about what matters to them and is more likely to seek roles in which there is a strong alignment between personal and company values.
  • The current student loan debt crisis has heavily influenced Gen Z to reconsider whether a four-year degree is necessary for career advancement; paid apprenticeships, trades schools, and certifications are re-emerging as potential career pathways as a result.

Transcript

Megan Gerhardt: [0:13] When we look at the dominant values of Gen Z, first of all, it's important to keep in mind, our Gen Zs are turning anywhere from 10 to 25 this year. If we think about a 10-year-old versus a 25-year-old, age is a layer of identity on top of generations. There's some interesting dynamics there.

[0:31] The values of every generation, there are some commonalities and there's some differences. Commonalities, of course, we want respect, connection, autonomy, competence. Gen Z wants that just like the rest of us.

[0:44] We are seeing some trends and things, like being very passionate and outspoken about things like social justice, choosing organizations to work for that have a very strong value alignment.

The values of every generation, there are some commonalities and there's some differences.

[1:00] This is not brand new for Gen Z. We saw this starting with Gen X, the millennials, and now Gen Z, wanting to make sure if I'm going to work for a place, I want it to be a place that believes what I believe.

[1:13] This idea of I want to work for a place that I believe in. A job is more than a paycheck. It's part of my identity and who I am. We'll continue to see that very strongly. Also, this idea of how Gen Z assesses authenticity of a company is really interesting.

[1:33] What is authenticity in the age of social media? It's a question I've had with a lot of my Gen Z students. Do they believe everything that they see online? Or do they have other ways of assessing whether they connect with an organization?

[1:48] That's probably the biggest shift that we're seeing is wanting to only work and be part of something that they believe in. The other shift and need we're seeing, particularly that's relevant in higher ed is this idea that it may be that many of our Gen Zs decide a four-year degree is not necessary or not for them.

That's probably the biggest shift that we're seeing is wanting to only work and be part of something that they believe in.

[2:11] We're obviously watching this really closely. The millennial student loan debt issue has been on display for Gen Z growing up and for their parents. Whereas Gen X and millennials were told you absolutely have to go to college. That is the way you're going to be successful.

[2:31] Gen Zs are now questioning whether that's true. There's a couple ways I'm seeing this play out. First and foremost, we're seeing increased opportunities in things like the skilled trades. Gen X and millennials were not encouraged to go into those fields as a whole. Now, there's huge opportunities. The mean age in something like construction, electricians, or welders is very high. 

[2:55] As baby boomers decide they don't want to do that work anymore. They're going to retire. Huge opportunities. I'm hearing this from a lot of those industries, to bring unique tech skills of Gen Z to industries who really need and would benefit from them, and also have big gaps in their pipeline.

[3:14] We're seeing apprenticeships and paid apprenticeships for high schoolers. We're seeing increased interest in trade schools, that directly give you pretty low-cost path to get yourself into a high-paying job quickly.

[Gen Z members] have multiple paths they're looking at to move forward. That's definitely going to be something we need to think about in terms of how do we make sure a four-year degree is valuable to them in what they're looking for?

[3:28] The other path we're seeing is certification. Things like a Google certification that came on the market last year, I believe, where you can take these very specialized skill trades and things like 3D printing, coding, analytics. These high-demand up-scaling certifications that will get you a job right away without that four-year degree. 

[3:54] The need for immediate gratification. Also, this idea of Gen Zs and their parents saying, "Is incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt going to get me the job that I actually want?"

[4:08] In higher ed, we obviously need to be paying attention to the fact that not only is Gen Z a smaller generation than the millennials. They have multiple paths they're looking at to move forward. That's definitely going to be something we need to think about in terms of how do we make sure a four-year degree is valuable to them in what they're looking for?

The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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