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Keep these 3 things in mind as you welcome the Gen Z workforce

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In the two years since Citibank launched a university partnership and regularly embedded students in the bank’s innovation ventures, the financial services group has gotten its own education on the Generation Z workforce.

American Gen Zers — those people born beginning in the mid-1990s — grew up in a country scarred by 9/11 and one about to be reeling from the Great Recession. Mass shootings have been a reality since they started grade school, and they’ve watched climate change escalate to a climate crisis.

That upbringing has led to an incoming workforce in which “purpose has gone mainstream,” said Vanessa Colella, chief innovation officer and head of Citi Ventures. Colella earned her PhD in media arts and sciences at MIT in 2001.

“If you're a student today you are highly likely to be active, if not about climate change about equality, or whatever your issue is,” said Colella, who also helped launched the Citi University Partnerships in Innovation & Discovery program. “It has become mainstream to be advocating for issues, to make sure that you are a part of the change that you want to make in the world.”

It’s no longer about setting up specific initiatives in a company, Colella said, it’s infusing those purposes into everything the company does.

“I think [our program] has really given us a tangible way to embrace what I think is both a requirement and real promise given to us by this next generation,” she said.

Here are three Gen Z insights Colella has learned from the nearly 1,800 students who’ve gone through the program, and how your company can appeal to the best Gen Z job candidates.

A slogan isn’t enough, it’s what behind it that counts

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who want to change the world, Colella said.

The young people entering the workforce today want to understand what companies stand for and what their role is in furthering that purpose.

Vanessa Colella, PhD 01', chief innovation officer and head of Citi Ventures.

Credit: Citi Ventures

“It’s not just about having a vision or mission of the company, but really creating roles, creating opportunities for people as they come into the company to bring their passion, to bring their energy, to bring their tenacity about what they want to see happen in the world and make sure that you have a way to allow that to flourish,” Colella said.

Be clear about what the day-to-day of a job is

It’s one thing to understand what a company represents. It’s another to understand what exactly a particular job at a company really entails. 

Unlike jobs like farming or manufacturing, where the work is not only physical, but visible, the technology age has caused more opacity in jobs, Colella said. It’s harder for a young person to understand what they’d be doing all day long, and how their skills and education will apply to that work.

“Where institutions can help students answer those kinds of questions, that’s useful irrespective of how long the company or institution you happen to be with has been incorporated or around for,” Colella said.

Don’t characterize the members of Generation Z — get to know them 

So much is written about the characteristics of each generation, Colella said: Are they hard workers? Are they lazy? Are they entitled? Do they want this or want that?

But Gen Z, like every other generation before it, is full of individuals, she added. And Citi is trying to tap into that broad spectrum of people to help the company seize its own opportunities and solve its own challenges.

“I see an incredibly diverse group of young adults with amazing skills, huge amounts of passion, and they’re all very different from one another,” Colella said. “I think that it's a very dynamic and interesting group and that we all do ourselves a service to individually learn what they're trying to accomplish, what they want to do, and how can we help them get there.”

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