The Gen Z Workforce Plea: Lead Us So That We Can Lead the World Doing Meaningful Work

Greetings from Washington, D.C. For the third year in a row, and in the space of two weeks, we’ve shifted our wardrobes from handling cold, wet, and blustery conditions to hot and humid ones.


Spring in D.C. should have its own celebratory calendar date—like Tax Day—instead of a three-month-long season, for spring seems to last here in your Nation’s Capital a mere fortnight.

And how about that Climate Change?

the gen z workforce pleaThree weeks from tomorrow morning, my stunning and wickedly smart daughter will graduate from high school. It seems like yesterday that we brought infant her home. And now, she is perhaps four years off from starting her own professional career.

Doing what? Time will tell. But we cannot wait to see how her professional life unfolds.

I hope that we’ve done well to prepare her for the rigors and requirements of active workforce membership. Actually, she loves working, does it well and takes her responsibilities seriously. She also takes direction from her supervisors well, and, accepts their direction and constructive criticism like a pro.

Our daughter is a member of Gen Z, the demographic cohort that is also known as the Plurals, because they’ve grown up surrounded by people from all walks of life. This group will one day eclipse in size the Millennials.

And that will be a good day when it happens.

But there are worry points plaguing Gen Z. A [Fall 2017 survey] finding from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government—described early today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe broadcast—strikes a discordant note: only 26 percent of women in their twenties feel prepared to succeed at work.

And for parents of Gen Zers entering the workforce that lack-of-preparedness-feeling expressed by so many workforce entrants makes perfect sense.

the gen z workforce plea“Barbara” is a senior digital marketing professional [and former recruitment client of mine from The Green Suits] based in Metro Detroit; her now 22-year-old son “Evan” is about to graduate with honors from the University of Michigan and then take an assignment with a prestigious Chicago-based consultancy. “Evan is smart and a quick learner,” Barbara says of her son, “but he knows what he knows mostly from the fabulous but limited internship experience he had during his Junior year. I wonder: will he be actively mentored by his new boss? I don’t know. And, more important, will [he] have the gumption to ask his new boss for mentoring support if it isn’t forthcoming? I don’t know that either. It does seem to me that mentoring and leadership exposure for younger workers like my son is getting harder to come by.”

The good news is that colleges and universities are working harder and smarter to mitigate the leadership deficit that so many young workers like Evan experience, today. At the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York—where 95 percent of the school’s graduates pivot to full-time work at top companies—great emphasis is placed on fostering mentorship and workplace leadership skill. The insight gathered by RIT faculty is that with more and better soft-skill learning and guided experience offered, their grads-turned-workforce entrants will be more successful and retain much longer at their new companies than had they gotten no or limited mentoring and leadership exposure.

I should add that RIT’s undergrad curriculum is centered around real-work experience—students take one or more semesters doing full-time paid work at companies—so they are exposed to considerable mentoring and leadership before they graduate.

Of course, the noble efforts of RIT and other institutions of higher learning won’t solve the mentoring and leadership gap that affects Gen Z so significantly. In my last years of executive recruitment, I became horrified by the growing trend of companies to no longer fund—or severely cut back—mentoring and leadership training. In corporate America, training of any kind is treated more often as a luxury, when in fact it should be a properly funded, critical workforce investment.

According to Wharton School, Gen Z members often have less workforce experience than their Millennial counterparts had when they entered the American workforce. And it is why it is so important that we who lead teams of professionals guide our Gen Z hires with meaningful mentoring and leadership experiences. That, and a strong culture of corporate social responsibility, is of greater importance to Gen Z talent than the level of salary that they are paid.

If there is a Gen Z workforce plea it is this: lead us so that we can lead the world doing meaningful work. Of course, let us pay them well, but let us lead our new generation of leaders exceptionally well.

And follow the Gen Z workforce plea, our best days lie ahead.

DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.


Photo credits: Graduates, iStock Photo; Gen Z Worker at the Office, iStock Photo.