Unconventional Aurecon Graduate

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What Gen Z want and why employers should give it to them

As workplaces across the globe begin to embrace the influx of Generation Z (Gen Z) graduates into the workforce, understanding what makes this generation tick is a top priority for many employers.

What do Gen Z want in a career or in an employer? How can organisations cater for that? What skills and attributes will they bring to the table? How will this generation impact the future of work?

In late 2018, global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon surveyed more than 250 Gen Z graduates across the globe, born from 1994 onwards, to uncover the aspirations and challenges facing this generation as they enter the workforce. The survey results provided key insights into what Gen Z graduates prioritise when deciding the ‘right company’ to work for, and also informing employers how they can attract the best Gen Z talent.

These insights are particularly pertinent when considered against the backdrop of current public commentary on ‘the future of work’ – a hotly debated topic amongst governments, industry, communities and academia. Recent reports such as ‘Future of Work and Workers’ and ‘Gender Equal Future of Work’ describe how rapid changes in technology (e.g. robotics, computing and artificial intelligence), and the changing nature of roles, work models and workforce makeup will influence new waves of workers, including Gen Zers.

Vital skills, now and into the future

Key revelations from the survey were the specific skills and attributes, which Gen Z see as vital for them to thrive in the booming infrastructure and property marketplace – now and into the future.

Overall, they rated serving a purpose and alignment with values as more important than salary when choosing where they want to work. Almost half of respondents (49%) ranked ‘serving a purpose and leaving a positive legacy for future generations’ in their top three characteristics when choosing an employer, while only 6.5% listed salary as their top priority.

According to Aurecon’s new data, in addition to ‘serving a purpose and leaving a positive legacy for future generations’, Gen Z’s top must-haves in an employer are: continual learning; training and development opportunities; flexible working, and career progression. 

Aurecon’s Chief People Officer Liam Hayes and Global Chair of Limelight Rebecca Ilunga, share further insight about what Gen Z want and why employers should give it to them:

Young African man

Dubbed the ‘Harry Potter Change Generation’, the survey results reaffirm Gen Z are incredibly altruistic, with a desire for their employers’ goals to align with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations.

From the survey, it was clear that purpose over money was a priority for a large proportion of this generation, overall rating serving a purpose and alignment with their moral compass as more important than salary when choosing where they want to work.

“At Aurecon, Gen Z can make the difference they are driven to aim for. We believe that humanity depends on engineering. We co-create clever, innovative solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges. And we deeply work towards leaving a legacy, as well as creating a better future,” said Rebecca.

23% of respondents rated serving a purpose and leaving a positive legacy for future generations as their most important characteristic when choosing an employer, compared with only 6.5% who ranked salary that is suitable for level of experience as their top most important characteristic.

Woman taking notes

When choosing who you want to work for, which characteristics of an employer are most important to you?

75% ranked ‘Learning and development opportunities’ in their top 3 characteristics. Also, just under half (48%) of Aurecon’s Gen Z survey respondents indicated they had completed, or intended to complete, additional online courses or certification in the future, while more than two-thirds of respondents have developed their digital skills since starting at Aurecon.

The new survey evidence shows that providing a diverse range of learning and developing opportunities helps graduates prepare for the new technologies and evolving work models (from traditional, ongoing employment in a single role to on-demand project-based work – the ‘gig economy’) that are defining work of the future, and will transform the way people engineer, design and advise.

“Continuous training and development is essential to help employees navigate changing roles and technologies. The demand for upskilling will become even more critical as new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, become more prevalent in workplaces,” said Liam.

Aurecon’s learning and development programmes support graduates and all staff in becoming future ready. Programmes include Catalyst, ArchiStar, Emerging Professionals Programme and our Aurecon Design Academy.

Woman at Aurecon Design Academy

59% of respondents rated ‘career progression – seeing where my role may lead’ in their top three characteristics when choosing an employer.

Gen Z are a generation willing to work hard, but they want employers to provide pathways for career progression, so they continue to learn and evolve as people and professionals.

Aurecon’s collaborative structure and cross-functional development opportunities enable employees to choose their own direction as their interests evolve and change over time.

“We don’t confine our people to a development timeframe or pathway – instead we equip them with skills and provide development opportunities allowing each person to design their career. Employees can express interest in a preferred team, focus on the technical skills they are most interested in, and fast track their experience and development,” said Liam.

Woman working from home with baby in her arms

Almost a third of respondents (27%) ranked flexibility of working when and where they want in their top three characteristics when choosing an employer.

Catering to Gen Z requires a different approach and providing flexible working, or the ability to ‘work differently’, is an important aspect in attracting and retaining talent.

Because the future of work is changing, there is a need to adapt in order to create a future-ready workforce with nimble, flexible work environments and a fluidity between traditional models of work and on-demand work.

Aurecon is ahead of the curve and leading the engineering sector in workplace flexibility with initiatives such as YesFlex ‒ which empowers employees of all positions to embrace flexible working and nominate their start and end times.

YesFlex creates a culture of flexibility helping to attract and retain talent, ensures career progression for flexible workers, and promotes a new way of working that is dynamic – adapting to the changing needs of individuals and the organisation.

How are Gen Z different?

This generation brings distinctive attributes that are different to millennials, Generation X and baby boomers in the workplace. Respondents ranked creativity, entrepreneurial mindset and resilience to change as skills they required the least support in developing after employment, which is supported by research showing this generation – raised during the global financial crisis – is more likely to readily adapt to change and display an entrepreneurial spirit.

As the first generation to only know life with the internet (after the worldwide web was commercialised in 1995), the survey results supported the expectation that Gen Z brings technological, strategic and problem-solving capability to the workforce. 63% of respondents ranked ‘strategic thinking and problem solving’ in the top three skills they felt most confident about bringing to the workplace, and 52.5% ranked technical skills in their top three.

Interestingly, respondents weren’t so confident when it came to hitting the ground running after graduating, with the survey results highlighting a disconnect between university education and how prepared graduates feel to work in the industry. Almost half the respondents (46%) felt adequately prepared for work after university, and almost one quarter of respondents (23%) ranked industry knowledge as the skill (out of 10) they felt the least confident in bringing to the workplace.

“Organisations, including Aurecon, are recognising this gap and addressing it through programmes such as our 10 course Catalyst curriculum that supports employees to learn creative skills, and the Emerging Professionals Programme specifically designed to help employees who are starting their careers build their skillset. Personally, I’ve found these programmes to be very helpful in not only building my skills but also my confidence in the workplace,” said Rebecca.

“Employers can help to bridge this gap through working in partnership with academia. At Aurecon for example, in addition to our learning and development programmes, we have a successful internship programme with universities such as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) where PhD students are able to test their research in real-world environments,” said Liam.

What’s next? Creating a future-ready workforce

We operate in a time of unprecedented change. As evidenced in reports such as 'Future of Work and Workers’ and ‘Gender Equal Future of Work’, emerging technologies will change the nature and type of work we do, and the idea of ongoing work in a single role could become a way of the past as on-demand work, or the ‘gig economy’ takes charge.

Generation Z – an altruistic, hardworking, entrepreneurial and tech savvy generation – are well equipped to tackle these disruptive forces head on, and it’s vital for employers to do the same.

“Aurecon isn’t waiting for the future – we are tackling these challenges now. Our understanding of, and readiness to tackle future challenges now, is helping to make us the employer of choice for Gen Z graduates,” said Rebecca.

Employers need to re-shape their organisations and ensure their workforce is adequately skilled to meet the changing industry demands and trends. For engineers, the rapid growth and uptake in SMART Infrastructure means graduates need both engineering and digital skills – and this is an important aspect for universities to get right too.

Another key element of a future-ready workforce is ‘cross pollination’ of skills and backgrounds. At Aurecon, we are recruiting a number of early-career practitioners for our growing Advisory practice who have degree qualifications in commerce, economics, finance, business or similar disciplines. Other employers can also benefit by expanding recruitment to encompass these areas, as well as recruiting those who bring a more diverse set of experiences to the business, through paid work, volunteering in not-for-profit organisations or engagement through university and undergraduate student societies.

To find out more about graduate recruitment at Aurecon, visit www.aurecongroup.com/graduates-interns

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