Future Workforce: Where Gen Z Wants to Work and How Startups Can Support Them

Like every generation before them, Gen Z grew up watching their parents’ careers shift and change. Now Gen Z is entering the workforce seeing a very different opportunity landscape than those generations had access to.

The Work-Learn Institute (WxL) at the University of Waterloo aimed to look at the problem from the other side. WxL asked Gen Z what they look for in a company or career path and recently released a full data report on its findings. Speaking with BetaKit, Ross Johnston, Executive Director for the University of Waterloo’s Co-operative Education, shared his perspectives on WxL’s data and how startups can support and cultivate Gen Z talent.

Balance and ambition
According to the data, Gen Z has a clear desire to learn on the job. For example, 78.3 percent said that “professional training and development” was a very important or essential employer attribute. Yet Gen Z workers also want work-life balance, with 83.4 percent saying it was a very important or essential consideration. Job security (78.9 percent), and a competitive salary (75.8 percent) with good benefits like a pension or healthcare (76.1 percent) were also highly-rated desires.

The data also found that 77.8 percent of Gen Z prefers hybrid work, compared to only 14.4 percent who want solely in-office work and 7.8 percent who want solely remote. This data point seems to further reinforce the notion that Gen Z wants balance, with flexibility and boundaries between work and home being the top priorities when job searching.

However, this isn’t to say Gen Z prioritizes flexibility over ambition. 81.6 percent of those surveyed want clear promotion criteria, with 67.8 percent saying they want to discuss career goals with their employer, and 68.5 percent expressing a desire for leadership development opportunities. More to the point, they want their employers to help them progress: 87.4 percent said they want constructive feedback at work with 74.6 percent noting a desire for mentorship from senior leaders in the organization.

Speaking to the data, Johnston said he sees some commonalities between what Gen Z wants at work and Millennials, Gen X, Gen Y—even Baby Boomers. What’s unique about Gen Z, he added, is that they have observed more change than previous generations and are now speaking out.

“Students have seen parents or family members in the past go through real work-life or life-work balance challenges with their employer,” Johnston said. “And of course, as it comes to them, thinking about their future and what they might want to do when they graduate, then I think they have a strong connection to those values based on what they’ve seen.”

“But the great thing for me is that those values are being expressed more,” Johnston continued. “And I think it’s actually enabling the potential for a far better and healthier work environment going forward.”

Show me your values
When it comes to recruiting and retaining Gen Z talent, Johnston noted that the “big trick” is that Gen Z wants to see a company live its stated values when it comes to inclusion and equity, or environmental sustainability—and they aren’t afraid to ask for receipts.

“They’re looking for that balance of an employer that’s not just all about the bottom line results and stakeholder value,” said Johnston. “The stakeholder value now has become broader in terms of, okay, ‘What are you doing in terms of giving back to society?’”

For companies wondering how to prepare for Gen Z talent, the University of Waterloo also offers multiple different resources for employers within its Future Ready Talent Framework. For example, its equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) best practices for recruiting future-ready talent whitepaper outlines six different ways that companies can build inclusive talent pipelines, including bringing in a dedicated EDI team member if the resources are available to do so.

“It’s one thing to talk the talk; it’s another thing to walk it,” said Johnston. “So what they are looking for in an employer is tangible evidence that goes behind the words to see that these things are happening and that’s held to be really important, which I think is a good thing overall.”

“As new grads they’re graduating with two years of work experience, meaning when you’re hiring someone you don’t have to take them through that transition of being a full-time student to a full-time employee, which can be quite painful.”