Engaging and communicating with Gen Z on the job site


  • The construction workforce is getting older, and Gen Z will be the next age group to step up to the job site. Understanding them will help leaders effectively communicate and engage with them at work.
  • Grouping Gen Z with Millennials is a common mistake, but the generations are vastly different. Gen Z tends to be more independent and less collaborative.
  • Gen Z are also DIY-ers, tech savvy, inclusive and want their voices to be heard.

As the construction workforce keeps getting older, job sites are welcoming more younger faces. By now, most of the industry is growing accustomed to Millennials. However, the newest entries to the construction workforce—Generation Z, or Gen Z—are vastly different.

Understanding what makes Gen Z tick (and how its members differ from Millennials) is the first step in communicating effectively and engaging with them, says David Stillman, who co-founded Minneapolis-based GenZGuru with his Gen Z-age son Jonah. The pair also authored the book “Gen Z @ Work” and are regularly invited to speak about Gen Z.

Lumping Millennials and Gen Z into the same group is the first mistake that many business leaders and hiring managers make, Stillman told FUEL. His organization defines Gen Z as individuals born between 1995 and 2012, but understanding them goes beyond merely knowing their birth year.

“The economy, parenting, world events, leaders, political climate—these are things that are taking place during your lifetime, during your adolescent years,” he says. “These things shape your worldview. That’s why each generation is different because they had unique events and conditions that shaped them.”

Shaped by technology

Consulting firm BridgeWorks estimates that U.S. Gen Zers count 61 million people among their ranks, making the generation already larger than Generation X and two-thirds the size of the Baby Boomer generation. Gen Zers are digital natives, meaning that they don’t remember a time before mobile phones and the internet.

The generation is also the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history, and they are concerned about inclusivity. Gen Z, who grew up after 9/11—and in an era of frequent school shootings—tend to be resilient, practical and resourceful, according to BridgeWorks.

One way Gen Z differs from millennials is in their approach to work. Gen Z is a very competitive generation, whereas Millennials were more collaborative, Stillman says.

“Millennials work together well and for the greater mission,” he says. “Gen Z is a lot more independent and competitive. So, on a job site, I’d be wanting to make sure Gen Z understands their role as a team.”

The best way to engage a Gen Z’er on the job site is to give them a project, clearly explain your expectations, and then “let them go do it and get out of their way,” Stillman says.

He also refers to Gen Z as the “DIY generation,” meaning that if they want to know something, they tend to use Google, YouTube or other resources to learn about it at their own pace. Ensuring that Gen Z workers have access to educational resources will keep them engaged on the job site.

“Their attitude is sort of, ‘Put me in a job and if I get stuck, I’ll stop, learn what I need to, then get back to work,’” Stillman says. “This is not the generation that’s going to learn everything they need before they show up at a job site. They’ll do what they know, and if they run into something that they need help with, they learn what they need to and get back to work.”

Natural innovators

Gen Z enjoys having their voice heard as part of a project, and Stillman urges foremen or project leaders to embrace these voices. The generation has grown up in a time of innovation, where they’re constantly eliminating the middleman, streamlining processes and implementing pioneering technology, he says.

“It’s important to realize that when you hand off an assignment or task to Gen Z that they’ll likely give their opinion on how it needs to get done. That is not a sign of disrespect or even entitlement—it’s a sign of innovation,” he says.

“When communicating with them, yelling orders, commanding control and talking down to them does not work. They’re used to having their voice be part of the process.”

In speaking with companies across industries, Stillman says he continues to find that Baby Boomers and Generation X leaders, who have years of experience in their fields, are often surprised by the new lens that Gen Z can provide.

One challenge that businesses across industries are facing is that many are not properly preparing collaboratively-focused Millennials to be frontline managers, and chances are, Millennials will soon be—if they’re not already—managers to Gen Z workers, Stillman says.

“I’d be looking at creating more of an independent competitive culture, rather than necessarily one that is focused just on getting along and collaborating,” he says.

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