Gen-Z Americans—those born after 1996—are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, according to Pew Research Center. These individuals have a superior grasp on all things digital and don’t recall a world before smartphones.
Meanwhile, McKinsey found that Gen Z represents approximately 40% of global consumers, which is fueling an ongoing strategic focus on this generation’s shopping habits. But just as shifts in research and development aim to increase their spending power, companies’ recruitment efforts should similarly empower this new wave of employees.
Beyond a four-year college degree
Gen Z is aware of past generations’ mounting student debt and is less certain that a college education will aptly prepare them for the workforce. A survey by ECMC Group found that Gen-Z Americans see education as integral to their future, but only 23% believe a traditional four-year college will lead them to a good job. This shift has led many tech executives to think beyond a college degree as a requirement for hiring.
“Stop focusing on degrees and functional experiences with other tech firms and start focusing on skills,” says Brittany Podolak, SVP of HR at Dell Technologies. “Think about the full portfolio of skills and how people have obtained their skills. This is really important, especially if we’re going to create better economic opportunities in underrepresented communities. Because if I’m only relying on the degree as a proxy then I’m already excluding a percentage of the workforce that doesn’t have a degree.”
The stats back up Podolak: When employees disregard applicants without four-year college degrees, they exclude 68% African Americans, 79% Latinx, and 73% rural Americans, as well as two-thirds of veterans, according to Opportunity@Work, which created the STARs (skilled through alternative routes) program.
Think about the full portfolio of skills and how people have obtained their skills. This is really important, especially if we’re going to create better economic opportunities in underrepresented communities.
—Brittany Podolak, SVP of HR at Dell Technologies
“They’ve turned college from a bridge to opportunity to a drawbridge that gets pulled up if someone hasn’t gotten through,” economist Byron Auguste, former deputy director of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration and current CEO of Opportunity@Work, told NPR last April. “You’re doing that before any skills are assessed. It’s not fair.”
Modern hiring qualifications
Employers must dip into multiple talent pools when it comes to recruiting, looking past a college degree toward modern hiring qualifications. Furthermore, it’s increasingly important that hiring strategies support employers’ ambitious diversity goals.
What’s this look like in practice? Harvard Business School’s study on degree inflation recommends employers ask themselves a series of questions, including:
- Which specific hard and soft skills are you looking for in critical middle-skills jobs in your company?
- Can you find viable candidates with those skills without asking for a college degree?
- Should you update job descriptions to reflect your true needs in terms of functional, professional and technical competencies?
- Instead of a four-year college degree, can your company identify the specific credentials, certifications, associate degrees or licenses that would help access the hard skills you require?
- Instead of a four-year college degree, can your company identify in-house training and work experience models, such as apprenticeships, to impart soft skills relevant to your organization?
- Does your candidate evaluation process need to change?
Though this is just a starting point, the transition toward more equitable hiring practices may better attract Gen-Z employees who are passionate about fairness and equality. The profitability benefits of a more diverse workforce aside, modern hiring qualifications will continue to fuel human progress and innovation.
As author Robert Greene captures so accurately in his bestselling book, Laws of Human Nature: “Throughout history, we can see that the healthiest and most celebrated cultures have been the ones that encouraged and exploited the greatest internal diversity among individuals—ancient Athens, the Chinese Sung Dynasty, the Italian Renaissance, the 1920s in the Western world, to name a few. These were periods of tremendous creativity, high points in history. We can contrast this with the conformity and cultural sterility in dictatorships. By bringing our uniqueness to flower in the course of our life, through our particular skills and the specific nature of our work, we contribute our share to this needed diversity.”
Lead photo courtesy of Getty Images
About the author: Donovan Louis is a student-athlete at Virginia Tech where he’s studying marketing and professional sales, while competing in track and field. He has a keen interest in technology and helping people reach their potential, regardless of their background.