How to Recruit Gen Z to the Construction Industry

Move over Millennials, Generation-Z workers are ready to take your jobs and here’s why they’ll succeed

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Many construction business owners have a negative mindset when it comes to the Millennial generation of workers. These workers are categorized as lazy, entitled, narcissistic and job jumpers, all characteristics not suited for careers in construction.

Still, many companies are putting their efforts in to recruiting these workers in hope to help continue to close the labor shortage and skills gap the construction industry is facing.  With most Millennials well in to their careers at ages between 24 and 38, the construction industry may have missed the boat on these workers. Good riddance you say? Perhaps.

To better attract the next up-and-comers, a number of organizations are turning their focus to the next defined group of young people: Generation Z. Gen-Z workers were born between about 1995 and 2010 (ages 10 to 25). The leaders of this group are already graduating college and heading to work. They are 72.8 million strong and it looks like the financially prudent, entrepreneurial and hands-on aspects of the construction industry will appeal more to these individuals than their millennial predecessors.

Millennials vs. Gen Z Workers

The frustrated recruiters in construction industry should be happy to learn that Gen Z is quite different from Millennials, and these differences should be noted in order to successfully attract and hire these workers.

While Millennials were raised by Baby-Boomers who never wanted their children to suffer and to always know their worth, Gen-Z children were raised by parents in Generation X who came of age amid a series of crises: Watergate, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger explosion, etc. They also watched their parents stress over bills and make serious efforts to cut spending however possible after the economy took a turn in 2008.

As a result, Gen-Z children tend to be far less entitled and at the end of the day feel lucky to have a job. This is good for the construction industry.

“Millennials were all about finding meaning in their jobs and how best to make the world a better place,” David Stillman said to a crowd of asphalt contractors during the National Asphalt Pavement Association annual meeting. “With Gen Z coming of age during the recession, they are putting money and job security at the top of the list. Sure, they want to make a difference, but surviving and thriving are more important. The cultures that can foster that are the ones that will win the war for talent with Gen Z.”

David travels around the country with his son Jonah, a child of Generation-Z, speaking about the differences between these groups of workers and how businesses can take advantage of those differences when hiring.

“At a young age, we were told by our Xer parents that there are winners and losers, and that more often than not, you lose,” Jonah said. “For this reason, we are looking for stability and opportunities to advance in our careers and are willing to stick around if we can find it.”

How to Recruit Gen Z

So how can construction companies attract this pool of workers to the industry? Start by discussing opportunity.  

Smart companies are figuring out what value propositions they need to put forth. For Millennials, it was all about how they could make a difference in the world, even more than a paycheck. For Gen Z, it will be about salary and benefits first and how they will be able to advance. That's a huge shift. 

While Gen Z is very salary-focused, it’s not out of a sense of entitlement as some feared with Millennials. This generation didn’t grow up in the booming 90’s and as a result they want financial security and traditional benefits such as health insurance. Though this may be a welcome change for older managers, it also means that companies will have to give Gen Z workers stronger incentives to stay loyal and that means you may have to pay them more if you want them to stick around.

Gen Z will also be motivated by a clear career path. Millennials paved the way for pushing career paths to advance at a much faster pace. Gen Z will continue to push for fast advancement; however, it will go way beyond just pace.

“We won't be motivated if opportunities to get ahead are based on how long you've been in a job, that will make no sense to Gen Z,” Jonah said. “In our eyes, it should strictly be based on performance, whether you've been there three weeks or three years.”

One way to get around this is to over Gen Z workers several different opportunities to learn at once. Research from the Stillman’s found that 75 percent of Gen Z would be interested in a situation where they could have multiple roles within one place of employment.

“Our national studies show how Gen Z is looking for customization in their careers,” Davis said. “Fifty-six percent of Gen Z would rather write their own job description than be given a generic one and 62 percent of Gen Z would rather customize their own career plan than have the organization lay one out for them.”

Ideally this means managers should figure out a way to offer multiple career paths for these workers, but if they can't, creating environments where Gen Z can be exposed to as many roles as possible will be critical. Initiatives like rotation programs and cross training will hit a home run with Gen Z because they'll get to feel as though they are working in many areas and therefore not fear they are missing out on anything.

And while being mentored may not have appealed to Millennials, the thought of learning from more experienced workers is expected by Gen Z.

“Our Gen X parents drilled into us that our opinions aren't always the best and that we have a lot to learn from others. Because of this, we will be very open to being mentored,” Jonah said. “It's never easy to be the youngest or newest employee, but because we know we have to start at the bottom and are not delusional about what it will take, we're hopeful we can create the common ground we need to be accepted and get ahead. Where Millennials came across as feeling the job was lucky to have them, we feel we are lucky to have the job. Seventy-six percent of Gen Z said we are willing to start at the bottom and work our way up. Paying dues is back on the radar!”

Expect Gen Z to Disrupt - In a Good Way

Since the construction industry never quite became a home for Millennials, they never really had a chance to leave their impact. Don’t expect that from Gen Z workers.

First of all, Gen Z has already disrupted the education industry as 61 percent of Gen Zers feel you should only go to college if you already know what you want to be. This presents an opportunity for an industry like construction to get in on the ground floor and offer good careers and good salaries to these future workers early.

“Companies on the leading edge are getting on our radar as early as possible,” Jonah said. “Because we are in survival mode, we are focused on creating security at a younger age. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z feels pressure to gain professional experience in high school and traditional industries are struggling with Gen Z because they are not on our radar. We are daydreaming out the window [about working] at companies like Netflix or Google. We aren't likely thinking about construction or manufacturing. Usually companies think about reaching out to college students or they offer internships, but innovative companies should be looking for ways to partner with high schools to get on the radar even sooner.” 

Outside of education, technology adoption and use in an industry that traditionally lags behind the rest of the world will become even more important.

Members of Gen Z are the true "digital natives." As they’ve grown older, things like smartphones, tablets, social media and even virtual reality have been the norm. They’re thoroughly comfortable with technology, and if they’ve learned anything from their resourceful Gen X parents, could come up with new ways to use tech to solve common problems faced by the industry.

“Gen Zers are true digital natives and 91 percent of Gen Z said technological sophistication would impact their interest in working at a company,” David said. “As the workplace continues to figure out how best to incorporate technology, this generation will lead the way. This will not feel natural, as usually it is the older generations to lead the way. However, this is the first time we have the youngest generation as an authority figure on something really important.”

Jonah agrees.

“I believe my generation will bring an important entrepreneurial spirit to work,” he says. “We will constantly look for ways to streamline processes and procedures. One thing we hear from a lot of Gen Zers is that we think the other generations over-complicate things. We have grown up in a time where often the middleman has been eliminated so we will look for ways to do things more efficiently when we show up at work. We truly are a DIY [do it yourself] generation and will bring this mentality with us to work.”

There has never been a better time to recruit these realistic and exceptionally motivated young individuals to the construction industry. Generation Z workers will be integral to helping the construction industry solve the growing labor shortage. Start recruiting early and keep the opportunities our thriving industry presents these workers in front of them often.