This article was first published in the July 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Born after 1995, the post-millennial Generation Z will make up roughly 25% of the global workforce by 2020. ‘Many professionals believe Generation Z will disrupt the workplace more than millennials ever did,’ says Lee Owen, senior business director at recruiter Hays Accountancy & Finance.

While millennials were raised during a time of prosperity and opportunity, Gen Z (also called centennials) have been growing up during the global recession and the slow recovery since. So while some millennials may be prone to job-hopping in their search for purpose and meaning, Gen Z are predicted to place greater value on job and financial security.

‘Having grown up in a recession, they have an understanding and appreciation of risk,’ says Ed Price, head of finance recruitment at Experis UK & Ireland. ‘They may therefore favour a more traditional take on employment over the millennial desire for multiple, short-term contracts.’

Potentially this means greater long-term loyalty to their employer. ‘But whether this comes to fruition remains to be seen as they move further through their careers,’ Owen says.

Money matters

Accenture’s Gen Z Rising report shows that the ability to earn a decent living is a top concern among Gen Z graduates: 85% would like to earn more than £25,000 in their first job. ‘Today’s entrants into the job market are looking for very competitive salaries despite low experience,’ says Iain Abernethy, head of learning and development at accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael.

But it is not all about the money. According to Accenture, 88% of Gen Z expect their first employer to provide formal training too. Adrian O’Connor, founding partner at recruitment firm Global Accounting Network, says: ‘More steely than the “snowflake” generation before them, post-millennials are very ambitious and hard-working. Salary is important, but so are opportunities to grow professionally.’ See also page 18.

According to a 2017 EY survey, 84% of post-millennials prioritise potential for career progression and growth when they are looking for an employer. ‘They are keen to understand how they will progress after qualification. They also want to know the long-term plan for the business and our growth aspirations,’ Abernethy says.

While very clear on what they want, centennial graduates are willing to be flexible in some respects. Accenture data shows most would relocate to another city or region for the right job, and six in 10 consider it acceptable to work in the evenings or at weekends.

In return, Generation Z expect employers to be flexible too, and allow them to fit work around their personal lives, without a rigid requirement to be in the office all and every day.

We have seen the push for flexible and remote working in millennials, but it may be more pronounced in Gen Z. Rob Russell, director of Reed Finance, says: ‘They’ve grown up being able to access everything remotely and won’t be satisfied with being glued to a desk.’

True digital natives

The ‘digital native’ moniker has been applied to millennials, but it is Gen Z who are the true digital natives.

Millennials may have witnessed the introduction and rise of digital devices, instant connectivity and social media, but Gen Z were born into it. ‘Digital technology is part of their nature, as opposed to knowledge nurtured within millennials,’ Russell says.

He adds: ‘Naturally, Gen Z will be attracted to practices with access to the most up-to-date digital technology.’ According to the EY survey, two-thirds of them firmly believe they need the technology to be productive.

Centennials’ advanced technological capabilities give them an educational head start on other generations. ‘Having grown up with instant access to the internet and knowledge only a click away, one of their strongest qualities is an increased appetite for life-long learning,’ Russell says. It is as if they have been conditioned to never stop learning, which is another reason why they always look for growth opportunities and clear career progression paths.

O’Connor says that, for employers, this conditioning can be both a blessing and a curse.

He explains: ‘On the one hand, Gen Z can be fiendishly productive, adapt to new ideas and use new tools innately. On the other, if they feel that they are not progressing professionally, they are likely to look for opportunities elsewhere.’

Checking up on employers

They put their excellent research skills to good use when checking up on potential employers. ‘They want to understand why a business does what it does, as well as its reputation and internal culture,’ Owen says.

They look for a strong brand, strong values and an engaging work environment. ‘They want to have a sense of pride for the business they work in,’ says Russell, ‘so won’t be attracted to firms they feel are outdated or boring.’

He adds that getting their attention in the first place may be tough. ‘You will need to work harder to stand out. There’s so much choice in the marketplace, and centennials know where to look for alternatives,’ he says.

Russell points out that another challenge will be managing the growing cultural differences in the workplace as the age and skills gap between various generations of employees grows because of the rising retirement age.

However, the good news is that Gen Z has the most inclusive mindset of all generations. The EY survey shows centennials’ ability to work well with people from different backgrounds and cultures is a key skill that sets them apart from their older colleagues.

Iwona Tokc-Wilde, journalist