Millennials (Generation Y) are the largest cohort in the U.S. labor market, surpassing Generation X as of Q1, 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. And Generation Z is hot on their heels. As Deep Patel writes for Forbes, “Generation Z is comprised of an estimated 2.52 billion young adults, which is significantly larger than the populations of generations x and y.” While both Millennials and Gen Z bring valuable tech skills and knowledge to the table, a common concern voiced by employers is that they lack many of the softer skills organizations need to keep businesses running smoothly and moving forward.
Writing for Chief Learning Officer Media, Sarah Fister Gale notes that, “one of the biggest challenges for engineering and tech companies today is that young recruits come to the workplace with few practical skills or experiences.” These new recruits have world-class educations, but they often haven’t had the chance to apply those skills in the real world. For employers and job-seekers alike, this can be a catch-22: the recent graduates might not be a great fit for a job opening because they haven’t gained any practical experience; but they can’t get the practical experience until they spend some time at that first job.
For her piece, Fister Gale interviewed Michael Richey – associate technical fellow at the Boeing Company – and Charlie Camarda – an American astronaut and senior advisor to the engineering development group at NASA. Both are strong proponents of a growing number of initiatives to help develop practical skills in students and recent graduates.
Many organizations, like Boeing, are taking it upon themselves to create such opportunities. “Camarda and Richey said that any big organization concerned about skills gaps in the workforce should consider developing their own educational outreach programs,” writes Fister Gale. These organizations recognize that they can help close the skills gap in young graduates, and that it’s a relatively small investment to help seed the incoming workforce.
Even if the majority of those taking part in these programs don’t end up working for the organizational sponsor, they are helping increase the overall pool of qualified applicants, not to mention putting themselves top of mind for the participants of those programs when they start job-seeking in earnest.
There’s no question that Millennials and Generation Z are the future of the workplace. It’s simply a numbers game. The challenge for employers is how to develop the necessary leadership and critical thinking skills among these young employees to complement their many admirable characteristics and mold them into the leaders of tomorrow.
Along the way, it’s equally, if not more, important to make sure you’re offering these less experienced members of your organization opportunities for input—and that you’re carefully listening to their input. They represent both the employees, and the consumers, of the future. Be inclusive!