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Generation Z apprentices: What to expect from the UK’s youngest workers

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths - Last Update: 29 Jul 2021

Contents

Who is Gen Z?

What do Gen Zers want from work?

Why would apprenticeships appeal to Gen Z?

Gen Z's professional personality

 

 

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Amanda Bathory-Griffiths

Your school-leaving apprentices are Generation Z. Their professional debut will challenge your apprenticeship management skills. Here's what to expect from your youngest workers.

  • Gen Zers describe themselves as introverted, driven and fast learning
  • 79% of Gen Zers believe it’s important to develop new skills throughout life
  • Gen Z are well-versed in contradictory, challenging conversation, but it's well-intentioned, driven by personal growth and betterment

Who is Gen Z?

In its report ‘Revision of World Population Prospects’, the United Nationals revealed that in 2020, 41% of the world's population would be people under 25.

If they were born in the late 90s and early 2000s, that’s Gen Z. They're a tidal wave demographic, outweighing their Millennial predecessors.

Let's put a face to a name. If we're thinking in terms of pop, Gen Z is fronted by Billie Eilish (19). Championing social activism is Greta Thunberg (18) and Malala Yousafzai (24). Over on the silver screen, you'd know Millie Bobby Brown (17) as Eleven from Stranger Things, or Tom Holland (25), the newest Spider-Man.

What do Gen Zers want from work?

They want stability, reassurance, and permanence.

Facebook's 'Meet the Future' report discovered that 79% of Gen Zers believe it’s important to develop new skills throughout life and 77% wanted to stay well-informed about things.

But the most recent swathe of school leavers is emerging from a disrupted learning environment thanks to COVID-19 and its lockdowns.

Their lives were divorced from school and proven teaching methods for a year. Learning and accomplishment were tied to juggling work and family life, enforced by stressed parents and distanced teachers and peer groups.

Although the real impact of the disruption is yet to be realised, there's a lot to repair. The transition from that strained learning environment to the professional workplace will be complex, especially if they're also taking on the pressure of an apprenticeship.

Managers and mentors will have to exercise patience and understanding, carefully watching for signs of stress and burnout.

However, despite these educational upheavals, Gen Z are driven by values and ethics. They want to make the world a better place, that includes your business, so they will have a positive impact on your workplace if nurtured correctly.

And they consume information at pace. You'll be bombarded with perspectives and ideas and expected to discuss them and have an opinion. More about that later.

Why would apprenticeships appeal to Gen Z?

According to a study by TD Ameritrade, 89% of Gen Z have considered not going to uni. Another study by Neilsen revealed that 54% of Gen Z wanted to start a business.

There's one pathway that unities education and working life that scratches both those itches. Enter, apprenticeships.

The perfect antidote to student debt and career uncertainty, and perhaps most importantly, a taste of what entrepreneurial life could be like, apprenticeships are a reliable choice for Gen Z.

Your apprenticeship programme gives them a long-term commitment to learning in a reliable format. They aren't stagnant in their career and that's a meaningful promise to a Gen Z apprentice.

But their wants and needs extend beyond a desire for educational and working agency and autonomy.

#1. Gen Z are motivated by benefits

According to research by Rave Reviews, 89% of Gen Z workers felt empowered by planning for their financial future. The average age a Gen Z starts financial planning is just 13. Just 32% had a credit card, compared to 60% with a savings account, and 33% had health insurance.

What does that tell you? They are mindful of debt and are careful planners. Any career move must offer a stable path, salary goal posts and benefits, like health insurance.

Giving them a supportive apprenticeship package, with a clear professional progression route, will help them feel more comfortable working for you, and therefore, more likely to see an apprenticeship through to completion.

#2. Gen Z want equal and diverse apprenticeship opportunities

Equality, diversity and inclusion have been hot topics for Gen Z. Check out this report - Gen Z Demands Diversity and Inclusion Strategy - which reveals 69% of Gen Z would be more likely to apply for a role that had recruiters and materials that reflected an ethnically and racially diverse workplace.

"Apprenticeships in Wales have equality and diversity at their core," explains TSW's Managing Director, Stuart Davies. "Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC), Equality and Diversity, Wellbeing and British Values are part and parcel of the apprenticeships we offer.

"They're an important part of your workplace culture and a young person's working life. It should be celebrated and talked about at every level of your organisation."

To attract fantastic Gen Z apprentice applicants and keep them for the long-term, your roles need to live up to the promise, and the environment must meet their expectations.

That means creating a sensitive and respectful culture (and not using the word 'snowflake').

 

Gen Z's professional personality

#1 They have multidimensional values

Gen Z, their power and paradox, an insightful report researched by WeAreSocial, outlines Gen Z behaviour and needs.

It reveals three learnings about Gen Z which would help you to better understand a young working person, and draw out the qualities that would help them to succeed.

In a characteristic it dubs 'conscious contradiction', the report describes Gen Z's kaleidoscopic identity.

They have a relaxed approach to contradiction because the world they grew up in is loud and deeply polarised.

Their relationships with brands, the things they consume, can be simultaneously enjoyed and disliked all at once. It's a multidimensional existence that's never black and white.

Let's look at the kaleidoscope reference in practice at work.

If an employer has an unscrupulous image, but its apprenticeship programme is full of opportunity and accomplishments, a Gen Z worker would condemn and praise the place of work in the same breath. Both opinions, although contradictory, are valid and can co-exist.

It's a value that although confusing, is intentional. If you hear a negative point of view from your apprentice, encourage them to elaborate to get the full picture.

#2 They are direct and dexterous communicators

How you converse with your apprentices will be the making of you, because it's challenging.

Gen Z brings a new type of dialogue and interaction which traditionally we might have called 'having difficult conversations, but again, we're going to talk about embracing contradiction.

Gen Z is prepared to have polarised conversations to challenge traditional viewpoints. Which means asking lots of questions and fact-checking you. Their Manager.

According to Ipsos Mori's report, Trust/Cynical, only 49% of 12 to 15-year-olds think the news they see on news websites is true.

In other words, just because you say something, as the authority in your company, or a certain subject, doesn't mean a Gen Z apprentice will just believe you.

A debate, a challenge, or a clash of views is uncomfortable territory at work, especially if you're a quieter Millennial or Gen X, but it's inevitable as it's an inherent personality trait of Gen Z.

However, the challenge comes from a place of education and enquiry. So it's not conflict management, you just need to practice managing the influx of questions and exercising patience.

Give them what they want - the tools to dismantle your requirements, the ability to analyse and evaluate the elements, and build it back up, persuasively.

The time and devotion you give to thoughtful education will grow your relationship with your Gen Z apprentices.

#3 Dismissiveness annoys them

You'll discover friction if you tell Gen Z what to think, or don't permit them the chance to question or give feedback.

For example, if a Gen Z apprentice gave less than glowing feedback about how a project went, and your response was "I require you to do it this way", it's dismissive. The whole experience and a complete dialogue about that experience are important to this generation.

They also want the chance to give feedback and contribute. WeAreSocial gives the example of contributing to Corporate Social Responsibility policies.

If you can allow your Gen Z apprentices to positively contribute, it will help to cement your relationship with them, and their connection to your business.

But that connection will be even deeper if you allow for contradiction.

#4 They lack early work experiences

According to the Ipsos Mori report 'Beyond Binary', the proportion of 16 to 17-year-olds with a Saturday job has halved since 1997.

Their dealings with you, at 16 (or even older), might genuinely be their first-ever interaction with an employer. You will be their benchmark, so be an understanding and reasonable coach as they dip their toe into professional waters.

#5 Introvert/extrovert

According to The Economist, Gen Zers are 'more stressed, depressed and exam obsessed,' and 'better behaved' than any other generation.

That description somewhat tallies with Facebook's report, in which Gen Zers describe themselves as introverted, fast learning and driven.

In both, it reads as if they place a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve as much as they can, as quickly as they can.

Fast learning and driven qualities will be music to apprenticeship managers' ears.

The introvert label is interesting and possibly more concerning for managers. However, considering they are geared up for complex conversations, it seems like a red herring.

It perhaps refers more to the method of communication, which would be via digital means, as opposed to an ability to communicate confidently.