How GovCon Can Better Appeal to Gen Z

For many years, the public sector and all who do business with the federal government have focused on attracting and retaining millennials.

But just my two cents, millennials seem to be old news.

Millennials are more outgoing than their younger counterparts, Gen Z, and have more predictable employer expectations, such as stability, career advancement and above-average health benefits.

Gen Z remains an anomaly, mostly because we know so little about them. But this group will quickly surpass millennials, making them a highly sought-after workforce.

They are our future. We lag behind tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon when it comes to recruiting and retaining Gen Z, which ultimately leaves a gaping talent hole for national security and IT modernization for the US government.

The generation born between 1997-2012, or Gen Z, currently makes up about 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But they will soon surpass millennials based on the number of births worldwide in this age group.

While there is strength in numbers, Gen Z is also much more vocal about their employer expectations than millennials or Gen X. As for the public sector, we can start implementing behavioral changes now to prepare for their arrival.

Here are my top four tips.

Create a successful internship program

Internships should be engaging and mutually beneficial. Put aside the “we used to make coffee” or “we had to earn our stripes” mentality. When I communicate with my clients, I always ask them, “What results do they hope to achieve by partnering with us?”

Ask your interns the same question. They typically say they hope to gain real-world experience, use real technology and be able to bring their ideas to the table. Offer your interns an immersive experience where they do the work and gain experience they can put on a resume.

As their employer, create an action plan to convert them into full-time employees. We are currently wrapping up CACI’s summer internship program, which is mostly 70% experience, 20% collaboration, and 10% formal training.

Our 325 interns attended enrichment workshops, earned credentials, and learned how to use the latest technologies, including Agile at scale, artificial intelligence, Linux, cloud, and more.

Practice reverse mentoring

Whether formal or informal, reverse mentoring is an effective way to engage and hear the voice of Gen Z. Most think of mentoring as a formal program where someone experienced or higher up in the company hierarchy mentors someone younger.

Reverse mentoring flips it upside down and the junior employee mentors the senior employee and takes some of the formality out of often having “mentees” ask the Gen Z “mentor” to train them in digital and collaboration.

Gen Z is the most diverse generation in US history. They are “digital natives”, they grew up with a smartphone welded to the palm of their hand, and we can learn a lot from them. They think differently, solve problems differently and collaborate differently.

They are unrestricted and confident in their use of technology; to be successful, we must adopt a similar approach in our business management. This is the future of work.

Engage Gen Z while they’re young

In the 1960s, every kid wanted to be an astronaut. The Gemini and Apollo missions captivated the country and children were inspired to be a part of public service. Google, TikTok, Meta, YouTube and others dominate classrooms and everyday life. We need to steer young minds back to public service and national security.

For example, we need more talent in digital signal processing. Because Generation Z is highly engaged in social causes, we can show them through experimental projects how they can use technology to make the world better and safer.

To achieve this, we must proactively work with academia to develop an engaging digital signal processing and RF curriculum and sponsor engagement programs in these areas throughout the academic year.

We can’t just hope they’ll choose those educational paths, and we can’t just attend career fairs hoping to find candidates for hire.

Provide meaningful benefits.

We can talk about health care premiums until we’re blue in the face, but most Gen Z workers don’t max out their health coverage or have a primary care doctor.

Gen Z wants continuous learning of modern technologies, improved training reimbursement and reimbursement for strategically valuable certifications in areas such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, Agile Development, ServiceNow and GitLab.

They require flexibility in work – especially telecommuting – and they absolutely want mobility. These are the “significant benefits” we hear from Gen Zers, and they’re even willing to take a pay cut for these opportunities.

Empower all your employees to collaborate and work with other teams across clients and missions. At CACI, we call our program #makingmoves. The program makes it easier for employees to move seamlessly within the company and find new, challenging opportunities.

For Gen Z: let’s not just offer them a job, but an engaging, dynamic career with growth potential.

Retention is about engagement, learning and challenge, digital collaboration and empowering Gen Z to enable change in a disruptive way.

Glenn Kurowski is the Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of CACI International.

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