Gen Z employee in an office setting or management position
3 tips for attracting the newest generation in the workforce

“What are you going to do after high school?” I asked my 17-year-old friend, Thomas.

“Probably get a job as an electrical tech,” he responded. “They make $25 an hour, I can start right after school finishes and learn from skilled people who’ve been doing it for a while. Besides that, it’ll be a good challenge.”

“What?” I retorted. “You’re not going to college? Not taking a gap year? Not spending $40,000 to $120,000 when you don’t know what you want to do with your life while your parents pressure you into just doing ‘something’ for the sake of looking good to everyone else, while you start life in debt and end up with a fairly useless degree that you can use to get an entry-level job, making the equivalent of $10-$12 an hour until you can land the perfect career-building position?” I said to him, smiling in approval.


Thomas isn’t alone in his choices; in fact, according to a recent study by TD, Ameritrade’s research division, 1 in 5 Generation Zers say they have decided not to go to college. Let me repeat that statistic another way: 20% of your potential workforce does not believe a traditional college degree is necessary.

While I’m not an example of that exact scenario, I did take an untraditional route myself. I enrolled in online college at age 14 and graduated at 18, having never stepped foot on my college campus.

Now, as a 23-year-old Gen Zer, I have good news for trade companies. You’ve got a highly skilled workforce coming your way that wants to work for you, but you must make sure your company has what it takes to attract them.

And here’s the thing: most oil and gas, manufacturing and textile companies I know and regularly consult with are not prepared to adapt to the native digital generation. As a result, they are at risk of becoming irrelevant in the next 15 years. I’m here to help! Let’s discuss three potential ways your company can attract Gen Zers to trade roles, as well as the things your company should be considering if you want to attract younger generations to your company in the first place.

1. Meet Candidates Where They Are Looking

It’s no secret that skilled trade opportunities are an alternative to college for many high schoolers, but you must get in front of these students early and often if you’re going to have a shot at recruiting them. As high schoolers, we start getting pressure to attend college from the moment we enter ninth grade (or sometimes even earlier).

In order for Generation Z to choose a skilled trade over attending college for a traditional program or owning our own business (54% of Gen Z wants to be an entrepreneur), you will need to influence decision-making from a young age.

Here are some practical ways that your management or recruiting team can get in front of Gen Z early:

  • Attend high school job fairs, career days and other similar events. This may surprise you, but 59% of Gen Zers say they are looking for careers at job fairs and in-person hiring events, compared to only 11% of millennials. This is a massive opportunity to influence Gen Z in choosing you as a potential employer.
  • Use technology. Build a Discord channel and/or email list of high school students. Your team can live chat with a community of Gen Zers and share internship, job and learning opportunities. You can feature events your company is hosting and invite the Gen Zers to learn. It’s your job to show Gen Z how a career with your company will enhance their identity and success and showcase what they will learn by working with a team of other skilled professionals.
  • Sponsor engagement programs with local schools in which students can learn and work with your company one day per week during the semester. You’ll get to “test drive” your candidates while also grabbing their interest in working for you when they graduate. It’s an enormous opportunity to build rapport with students and generate word-of-mouth referrals.

Speaking of referrals, let’s talk about just how important they can be in recruiting Gen Z.

2. Focus on Referrals

Where is Gen Z looking for jobs? Social media, right? Wrong. According to a recent report by talent acquisition and research firm Yello studying how Gen Z is applying to jobs, 62% are asking friends and family. Employers, I can’t stress how important it is to focus on a solid employee referral program — with incentives — that brings a pipeline of candidates into your business.

The catch? Gen Z won’t refer your company — even with incentives — if we don’t believe in the work the company does or the culture the business has created. Incentives are merely a way to spur referrals that were likely already happening if Gen Zers are proud to work for your company.

Because of this, culture-centric recruiting can be your most powerful asset, but it also takes an intense, people-first focus to build a culture Gen Z can get excited about. From a recruiting standpoint, one way to generate interest and hype from students is to make sure the front face of your career website is modern.

3. Modernize Your Career Website

If you’re trying to get Gen Z to apply for your open positions, we need to be assured we won’t be the only people our age at the company. A large majority of companies with trade positions fail to feature Gen Zers on their career websites, even though that’s the first place we look when considering working for a company.

Beyond just showing young faces, seeing other Gen Zers on your website will subconsciously inform your candidate that your company has enough flexibility and value alignment with other Gen Zers to warrant giving you a shot.

Test yourself. Go to the careers or jobs section on your website and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there a good number of people under age 25 represented in the photos?
  • Is diversity showcased (and valued within the company)?
  • How often are “you” statements used instead of “we” statements? (The more “you,” the better.)
  • Are there short video snippets?
  • Are there any features of your involvement in mission-driven, social or community work?

If you want to get Gen Z “in the door,” these are the first questions you should be asking. I’ve analyzed dozens of career websites with open skilled positions, and the dearth of content, diversity and images of Gen Z faces is evident. You’ll be ahead of the curve with just a few tweaks.

As you seek to attract Gen Z to your business and then retain highly skilled talent, getting in front of us early, building a culture and reputation that we are “proud to work for” and helping create clarity of growth will all be crucial. Of course, we have barely scratched the surface of the tactics that can be leveraged to bring Gen Zers in your door.

Trade-based employers, you have a unique opportunity to capture Gen Zers in a world where we are becoming quickly disenchanted with the debt and stress of college and instead are turning to alternatives like a skilled career. In this world that is quickly becoming governed by native digitals, recruiting and retention methods are changing rapidly. Are you ready to keep up?

Hannah Grady Williams, a 23-year-old Gen Zer, graduated from college at 18, then set out to consult for firms from startups to Fortune 500 companies, including the likes of Chick-fil-A franchises and 9Round Fitness. She helps leaders meaningfully connect with the next generation and demystifies them. Connect at and on LinkedIn @HannahGradyWilliams.


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