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Innovation and technology

Looking for new talent? Tips for attracting and retaining Gen Z

9 min read / November 1, 2021 / Komatsu Staff Writer

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The construction industry is undergoing a transformation in its use of technology, and it’s a change that could help far beyond the work site. For an industry continuing to face a shortage of workers long term, using technology to reach, recruit and retain our next generation of employees (right now, the target is Generation Z or “Gen Z”) is a logical way to boost interest in construction careers. So, what can, and should you be doing to reach this critical audience and how can technology help bridge the gap?

Gen Z now makes up 30 percent of the global population and a quarter of the workforce. Born between 1996 and the early 2010s, members of the “iGeneration” of digital natives grew up during a time of rapid technological advancement and have never known a world without the internet.

Companies looking to recruit members of Gen Z should embrace the younger generation’s relationship with technology. Because today’s recruits have grown up in a digitally pervasive time, they are looking for employers that accept and embrace technology. Recent statistics show that 91 percent of Gen Z members say that the level of technology sophistication would impact their interest in working for a company.

“This generation is more adept at communicating than any that ever existed before,” writes Charlotte Penny, an expert on emerging trends in human resources, in the article “5 ways to attract and retain Generation Z talent.” She notes that this generation has been using instant messenger applications, social media, and email since they were quite young. They’ve been honing their written communication skills for most of their lives, and it makes them “extremely valuable, especially in roles that require a high level of communication such as customer service, sales and marketing.”

In its blog, a company specializing in employee engagement notes that it’s imperative for companies to tap into the Gen Z talent pool. Doing so will enable companies “to fill vacancies with new hires equipped to herald [their] company into the digital age.”

It goes on to say that because more members of Gen Z are studying digital-based degrees, to target them as future employees, companies should “ensure a great candidate experience that makes use of technology.”

Use ‘culture’ technology

To promote your company and recruit new talent, turn to Gen Z’s preferred social platforms, which include TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Studies show that Gen Z spends nearly three hours per day on social media, which is more than any other generation. If you’re looking for new recruits, it’s imperative to have a strong social presence.

“Companies’ talent attraction efforts must be as digitally native as Generation Z,” says Ryan Jenkins, Generation Z speaker and generations expert in an article for Inc. He goes on to say that “to reach next-generation talent pools, disrupt the prevailing models of talent attraction by using innovative technology.” He encourages companies to have a strong presence on Indeed, LinkedIn and other top recruiting websites and mobile apps so that Gen Z can “discover their ideal employers.”

Social media is a valuable recruitment tool because of its ability to target preferred candidates, Albert Galarza, a member of Forbes Human Resources Council, writes in Forbes. He notes that beyond recruiting, social media can also support employee advocacy, in which your employees can help promote your company through their own channels. “By encouraging Gen Z workers to share content about your workplace culture and tagging it with a custom hashtag, you can attract other Gen Z candidates and continue to grow your talent pool.”

Leveraging technology to enhance and even foster new means of company culture growth is a way for current employees to engage with others both outside and inside the company. For the latter, larger companies, in particular, should consider trying an internal social platform to let employees make connections and be more involved with each other. Internal platforms can be a great tool for employee recognition, and also provide a mechanism to set up volunteer opportunities, something Gen Z values.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and photos of employees doing good work is an excellent way to show how much your company invests in the community,” says Yoetzin Diaz, a Komatsu Smart Construction solutions manager. “Gen Z wants to make a difference and make a lasting contribution. Allowing and encouraging employees to create visual content and tools about how your business does that could help. It’s an opportunity for them to engage more deeply in a company. Showing these events on social media promotes your company and gauges more interest in it.”

Embrace work-from-home, remote tech

Companies that allow and trust employees to work remotely—at least some of the time, where possible—can be more attractive to younger generations. Over the past year and a half more people worked from home than ever before because of the global pandemic. The move to work from home (WFH)  showed that productivity doesn’t suffer outside of the traditional office workspace. The cloud, virtual private networks and other technology, along with Wi-Fi and mobile devices, make this possible. While not feasible for field personnel who must run machinery and install utilities, the opportunity to WFH might be an incentive for traditional office and IT jobs, as well as other workers who only need to be on-site occasionally.

“Technology has come a long way in terms of what can be done from home or other locations outside of the office,” Diaz says. “Gen Z, and others as well, appreciate the flexibility to do that. It also gives them the ability to collaborate on projects from the convenience of their computers and smart devices, which they like.”

Technology to train

Using technology to train could be a selling point for many Gen Z workers and ease their onboarding. They are very “digitally literate,” so using computers, simulators and/or virtual reality (VR) as training platforms makes sense and helps frame your company as modern.“VR technologies are far beyond the stage where it’s only gaming that can benefit from them,” Catherine Strohanova, an expert in virtual reality applications, writes in “4 Ways to Use Virtual Reality in the Construction Industry.” “Virtual reality is slowly but steadily taking root in major industries like the oil and gas sector, and the construction specialists have also found several beneficial ways of using VR.”

Strohanova cites the lower expense and increased safety that VR offers for novice heavy equipment operators. “The thing is that many graduates with an engineering degree get their diplomas without sufficient practice at a construction site. VR training … allows workers to operate equipment without risks.”

The benefits of VR also offer the opportunity to save time and money, improve safety training, and can enhance collaboration for higher quality training.

Even artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly coming into play. “Construction managers have been finding value with AI and cognitive technologies to help automate many of the mundane but essential tasks to running their operations,” Kathleen Walch writes in “AI Transforming the Construction Industry.” “They are finding AI helpful with scheduling related tasks in order to prevent delays, conflicts and other issues. This is both on the staff level of scheduling and on the project and materials side.”

Construction-specific technologies

Don’t underestimate the value of an increasingly tech-enhanced site, as well. For a generation that grew up playing video games and maybe even got a drone for Christmas in the past 10 years, today’s digitally enhanced work is an evolution from what some may view as a more traditional career choice.

“There are so many ways drones can be used to increase efficiency and production, and they are fun to fly,” says Diaz. “They are among the most common items in use today, especially in construction.” New recruits will of course have to take the necessary courses and tests to become licensed pilots before they fly a drone over a site, but “learning new technology hardware is appealing to Gen Z,” Diaz adds.

Leveraging sensors, data and more, the latest construction equipment virtually eliminates staking, saves time and material costs, and lets novice operators produce faster.

“Technology plays an ever-increasing role in today’s construction industry, and the ability to use it and run big pieces of machinery can be very appealing to the next generation,” Diaz concludes.