In this post, I discussed how it can be difficult for my generation to talk to millennials and Gen Z-ers, especially in regards to work-related matters. I had the chance to confront such communication issues again in this other post, where I focused on the recruiting process of Millennials. Now I would like to make a further contribution to this subject, once again on the basis of an event that I experienced first hand.

For several years, I’ve had the honour to host seminars for engineering students attending the main universities located in the same area where my company is situated. Besides a quick presentation of the company, throughout these seminars I show students the products we develop, the technologies we leverage, and the tools we use. For the students, this is a remarkable opportunity to peek inside a real company, where electronics/software engineers—what they will become in a few semesters—exploit on a daily basis what they have learned as students. The idea is to show them by practical examples how they will make use of the knowledge and the hard skills they acquire laboriously over the years spent at the university. For my company, these events are also valuable occasions to illustrate thoroughly internship proposals related to innovative projects, which we churn out seamlessly. But these seminars are outstanding opportunities for another, more subtle reason as well.

Being an engineer, I naively used to focus such seminars on technical aspects of our job. I had no doubt that young aspiring engineers would have been fascinated by these subjects—I’m aware that this might sound weird to most readers, but that’s the way we engineers are. By the way, it is no coincidence that we are one of the most favourite targets of jokes … I’m digressing, so, let’s get back to the original topic. At the end of each seminar, I invite students to fill out a brief, anonymous feedback questionnaire. Thanks to Google Forms, students can fill out the questionnaire later on, and their answers are aggregated in real-time automatically. The most important queries they find in the questionnaire are

  • to indicate the interest for the topics illustrated throughout the seminar
  • to indicate topics, if any, they would have wanted or expected to see that were not covered.

These questions have turned out to be exceptionally significant because they have allowed me to see how the students’ perception and judgement have changed over time. It became apparent that technical topics are still considered important, but they are not so crucial as they used to be. Surprisingly, several students stated that they would have really appreciated to get information about “environmental” aspects, too. How the lab in which the internships take place look like and company life/culture are two examples of such aspects that these students stressed. Of course, I expect that I would have received similar feedback if we were talking about real job offers and not internship proposals.

At first, I was a little bit incredulous when I read these answers because they have nothing to do with the heart of the seminars. Later on, I thought it over and I came to the conclusion that this outcome shouldn’t have surprised me. As a matter of fact, these answers are absolutely consistent with what I described in the two posts I mentioned at the beginning of this article. I’m not a sociologist, but I would say that what I observed confirms fully how digital natives—the students I’m talking about were born at the end of the 90’s—give much weight to many factors surrounding their job. My generation hardly understands that aspects other than money and career can make the difference when it comes to your work, but this is completely normal for digital natives, instead. To take into account their perspective, we probably should also consider to redefine the concept of “job”, which is something well beyond the mere execution of a collection of tasks nowadays. In this regard, it seems there are other factors—like the quality of time spent at the workplace—that play a major role for Gen Z-ers, and that they even consider as integral parts of their work. To them, these factors have the same dignity of traditional duties such as meeting deadlines or achieving assigned goals.

So, I have been delighted in trying to understand everything about Gen Z-ers—at least, this is what I’ve been thinking for a while. But apart from that, you can ask what have I done with the answers to the questionnaire. I’ve done my best to treasure the suggestions I’ve received from students. Although I didn’t recreate the contents of the seminar from scratch, every year I’ve fine-tuned the presentation according to these remarks, in order to address my target more effectively. For instance, I reduced the amount of slides devoted to some deep technical subjects, while I increased the number of slides related to other “surrounding” aspects. We also made a clip showing moments of real company life that I’ll show and comment on during future seminars. This short video should help me convey what our job is all about and should help students realize what a real electronics lab looks like.

In conclusion, even though these seminars were designed to teach something to students, at the end of the day they represent a lesson for me, too. Year after year, I learn new things about my future colleagues and their generation. And I’m sure that this soft skill will be outstandingly useful to fulfil my duties in the years to come.

Addendum

Coincidentally, while I was writing this post, I got in touch with a Swiss company specializing in selecting and recruiting software developers. This firm applies an innovative, fully-online approach, which combines the use of popular social media platforms with proprietary tools. I had an interesting call with one of the company’s founders, Nicola, who explained me how it works in detail. As this company mainly addresses young developers, their approach represents a compelling, real-world example of effective communication with millennials and Gen Z-ers in a working environment. Nicola was also so kind to share a presentation with me in which his company summarized the top five items young developers assess when considering a job offer:

  • Women’s list
    1. Office environments and company culture
    2. Flexible scheduling
    3. Opportunities for professional development
    4. Technologies
    5. Remote work options
  • Men’s list
    1. Technologies
    2. Office environments and company culture
    3. Flexible scheduling
    4. Opportunities for professional development
    5. Remote work options

These lists are relevant because they are based on a significant statistical sample, which consists of thousands of software developers that Nicola’s company has gotten in touch with throughout the years. There are some notable observations we can squeeze out of such lists.

  • Neither women nor men put money in the top 5 items
  • It surfaces evidently that today’s young adults give a huge importance to their time and to the possibility of managing it autonomously
  • Technological aspects are still relevant.

I’m glad that these lists and this recruiting company’s approach substantially confirm the conclusions I have drawn in the previous posts, linked at the beginning of this article. As such, I feel confident that I’m going in the right direction when it comes to interacting with these generations, who think and communicate differently whether you like it or not.

Credits

Editing assistance by Dr. Emily Braswell.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.