Companies seeking tech talent are nervously watching as their older generation retires and key positions in the technology organization remain unfilled.
With unemployment levels historically low in tech professions, and the cycle for filling technical roles stretching longer, leaders are hoping the incoming generation of technologists can backfill attrition driven by the Great Resignation.
Gen Z, or those born after 1997, according to Pew Research, represents a pool of largely untapped, incoming talent. Three in every 10 members of Gen Z say software developer is the role they are most interested in after graduating college, according to a survey of 1,000 people between the ages of 19-24 conducted by CloudBees.
Graduation trends signal a steady increase in IT interest as Gen Z enters the workforce. The number of college degrees in computer and information sciences has steadily increased, from 64,402 in 2015-2016, to 88,633 in 2018-2019, a 38% increase, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Engineering degrees have also sustained growth, up 19% over the same period.
While innovation and excitement are important factors driving the younger generation to tech roles like software development, early exposure to tech has also helped stoke that interest, said Dinesh Keswani, CTO at CloudBees. "When they see something that impacts them on a daily basis that makes it even more attractive."
A sizable percentage of "Zoomers" (another moniker for Gen Z) plan to pursue a career in technology. But to attract and retain the incoming wave of technologists into their ranks, companies must be able to compete in three critical areas: company culture, compensation and career growth.
The current state of the tech job market is driven by high demand and low supply, with the IT unemployment rate at just 2.2% in the month of September, according to CompTIA analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This contrasts to the national unemployment rate, which was 4.8% in September.
Retaining the younger generation of technologists is already posing a challenge for companies. More than half of Gen Z workers say they plan to pursue a new job in the next year, according to Adobe's Future of Time report.
Gen Z is also the generation that reports lowest satisfaction scores in work-life balance and their jobs, the report found.
What do Gen Z technologists want?
Gen Z needs their work environment to be fun — or it's not going to work out, according to Harry Han, a 23-year-old control system design engineer at Performance Automation Solutions.
"Most people know they only live once, and they want to be happy," said Han. "So, if the company can entertain them in that perspective, that's a big part."
But the other impactful component to retaining a young technologist has to do with compensation. Gen Z comes to the job market well aware of their value. Of the one in five workers who voluntarily changed jobs last year, Gen Z makes up one-third of this group, according to an IBM report.
Despite their higher mobility, roadmapping a career can help prevent Gen Z attrition, as a sense of purpose is another trait younger workers look for in a job.
"It's important for companies to give interns and recent grads direct exposure to work that has an impact on the company," said Lindsay Grenawalt, chief people officer at Cockroach Labs. "This allows them to build confidence while learning how to work inside a business and feel valued for the work they are doing since they are directly impacting the company's success."
Gen Z workers, alongside their millennial peers, also value having a sense of autonomy in how they work. Two-thirds of Gen Z and millennial IT workers say autonomy in choosing the apps, services and devices they use is among their top priorities, according to Forrester data.
Autonomy in the workplace, attractive compensation and a good working environment help get young talent through the door. But what's most successful in retaining Gen Z workers is a path to career growth, said Keswani.
"There has to be an implicit career development mechanism within enterprises," said Keswani. Software developers don't necessarily only want to write software, they want to [become] managers, team leaders and even move within a company into cross functional roles."