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Z marks the spot: As Generation Z begins to come of age, what do they expect from the job market?



Generation Zs are digital natives, the first to have grown up in a digitalised world. Born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, they are the generation after millennials and right now are aged between seven and 22. They are the biggest consumer cohort globally.


Their oldest number are just entering the job market, and what they want out of their careers and from future employers is drastically different from previous generations, say those who are educating and hiring them. Engaging this generation of workers will be key to filling today’s vacancies and those of the future. The Belgian tech industry federation Agoria has warned that if things continue the way they’ve been going, Belgium will have 584,000 unfilled vacancies in 2030.


In such a tight job market, standing out from other employers, whether with your values, messaging, benefits or company culture, is key. This is known as the war on talent; better understanding what motivates Generation Z graduates will be key if employers want to win it.

Elisabeth Van Damme, director of governmental and external communication at GSK’s Belgium public affairs office, says the healthcare company has been able to respond to the needs of Generation Z graduates by virtue of the kind of company it is. “One element that’s specific to us and is probably attracting younger generations is that what we do here every day has a sense of purpose.


"We know that by discovering and producing vaccines, we are potentially saving lives,” she says.

“And I think the younger generation look for companies where they can find values and look for jobs where they have a sense of purpose.”


Van Damme works at the company’s offices in Wavre and Rixensart, where GSK’s global vaccine headquarters are based. Because GSK is a multinational company that believes in innovation, it is also able to offer meet another quintessential Generation Z demand: their thirst for lifelong learning and personal development. “There are lots of opportunities for development; that’s also something I think attracts the young generation – they know when they start a career in a company like ours, they have possibilities for career development.”


GSK has a Future Leaders global graduate development programme that targets high-potential, ambitious young people early in their careers. Candidates accepted into the programme in Belgium are offered a two-year contract and take up four positions related to their specialisation, one abroad and three in Belgium. “They are coached by a senior leader and the idea is to build on a network, try to understand how the different roles work and discover what their strengths are, so that after those two years they can decide where they want to end up,” Van Damme explains. “They then need to find a landing position, but of course they’ve had that opportunity to experience different departments, different functions, so they have a better understanding of how things work here.”

Melanie Warnes has worked in education for more than 30 years; as the Principal at The British School of Brussels (BSB), she has seen countless Generation Z students pass through the school doors. She says that engaging with schools is a great way for employers to better get a handle on the things Generation Z value in their jobs and employers.


“What better way to understand that generation than for an employer to build a relationship with a school? Because the future workforce, the future leaders of those companies are sitting right here and they’re just fantastic,” Warnes says.


BSB itself has an employer engagement strategy aimed at developing students’ skills for the future and to broaden their horizons in terms of opportunities, as well as to raise issues with students that are likely to affect them at some stage. The school has also organised expert panels about, for instance, how artificial intelligence will influence the job market. Warnes points out that these expert panels also contribute to the school’s mission of developing students as a whole, personally and socially and not just academically.

According to Warnes, there are a number of overall, general traits that distinguish this generation of graduates from their predecessors.


“They’re so much more aware than my generation was of ethical issues,” she says. “They will ask questions about things at a deeper level. If I was giving advice to companies, it would be around how well the companies are communicating their ethical position.”


She points out that students are, for instance, often interested in finding out who owns multinational companies, where investments are made, what the labour chain is, and what their environmental impact is. “They’re very interested in justice and equity,” Warnes says.


She adds that Generation Z workers also are looking for jobs that nourish the soul.

“They’re looking for fulfilment – not necessarily financial. Obviously, that’s important to some, but I think the whole well-being agenda is so much higher profile for this generation than it might have been before,” she says.

Students are much more mobile in both senses of the word, she says.


“Their aspirations are not necessarily in one location or one role – that’s one big shift.” In addition, they also spend much more time on their phones, and consume much more information on those devices than even the generation right before them, millennials. 

“If you look at the stats coming out about how many hours per day this generation are on mobile devices and their smartphones, I think that’s still an underused way for employers to communicate with Generation Z graduates”, she says.


Warnes points out that some companies struggle to present themselves in a way that resonates with and appeals to younger people, and instead are sticking with tried-and-trusted recipes that worked with previous generations of applicants. She gives the examples of stories she sometimes hears from students after careers fairs.


“They have a positive engagement with a company representative and they come away quite fired up because they’ve had a really engaging conversation,” she explains.


“And then when they go and look more closely at those companies, they find that how the website is presented doesn’t really match the face-to-face they had with a company representative and they find it hard to see what might be relevant to them. So I think there is something there around the language used,” she says, adding that one way of resolving this mismatch might be to redesign company websites with some end-user feedback from Gen Zs themselves.



By Linda A Thompson

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