Young people are sometimes accused of being lazy, lacking concentration and exhibiting an overwhelming lust for instant success – perhaps compounded by too much reality TV. But it turns out that Generation Z – those born between 1994 and 2010, and now starting to enter the workforce – are actually very realistic about what it takes to be a success at work. They don’t want to be celebrities or football stars: they want serious, high-skilled jobs.
A new poll of hundreds of the capital’s school leavers for Skills London found that they wanted to join professions such as accountancy, law and medicine, or have careers in business, science and software development. In fact, despite the poor press for banking over the last few years, the profession came in at number four of the most sought after jobs.
One of the biggest criticisms of Generation Z is actually one of their greatest strengths. We hear a lot of scorn about addiction to six-second Vine videos and 140-character Tweets, and how this could mean that young people will struggle to muster the attention span and social skills needed in the workplace. But these are just visible signs that this is the first generation to have used the internet throughout their childhood. And now their time has come. Social media is something every major employer has to master, and this generation’s deep-rooted understanding of it makes them ideally suited to many of the jobs they’re after, including in marketing. All that time looking at screens wasn’t wasted after all.
Young people are also often accused of being poor communicators. For this generation, it seems particularly harsh. Compared with millennials, who grew up texting, some argue that Generation Z have an advantage: they’ve honed their communication skills as a result of multi-player computer games, which make use of microphones, and having used video calling for coursework.
Going back to the poll, London’s school leavers think that good qualifications are the most important thing that employers are looking for – and mostly, they are confident that they will get their ideal job. But 21 per cent lack confidence, and 5 per cent of school leavers don’t know what they want to do career-wise.
The business community has a vital role to play both in helping those in Generation Z who lack confidence to get established. And it needs to help new workers more generally get the employment and training opportunities they need. This is not just because of self-interest, but because it should be a social priority to get young people into work. Britain has a youth unemployment rate of 653,000, which is still far too high. That’s why today and tomorrow, many of London’s biggest employers – with the support of the mayor of London – are running Skills London, a free exhibition of 45,000 job opportunities, along with careers advice.
And it’s why we need to expand apprenticeships and other skills training, to ensure that we have a workforce that competes less on wages and more on talent. Over 80 per cent of companies that have employed apprentices say that they have not only seen a noticeable increase in workplace productivity, but have also gained new employees with fresh insights that help them compete.
London’s business community, of course, needs to be able to attract talent from around the world – to fill skills shortages and to respond quickly to new demand. But for skilled immigration to maintain its public and political support, firms needs to be seen to play a full and proper role in training those already here. And it’s why business leaders need to see investment in the next generation not just as a cost but as central to their future success.