Gen Z Recruiting Strategies for General Contractors
Some pointers on attracting the most populous work generation
November 15, 2022
13 min read
Senior Growth Marketer
According to Tallo, construction is second-to-last in terms of industries that Gen Z (that are currently in high school or college) desire to work in at a paltry 16.7%, a hair above Forestry at 16.4%. This is very, very bad news for construction if the industry doesn't switch up its sales pitch.
Scrolling through the sentiments about millennial laziness and the entitlement of Gen Zers online, it’s clear that the horse has been beaten to a pulp. Still, knowing what the most recent workforce wave, Generation Z, expects as they enter the workforce—or the construction industry if they're pivoting—is invaluable to keeping a GC afloat for the decade before we start giving Gen Alpha hiring tips.
Worldwide, Gen Z has surpassed millennials as the largest generation, making up over 30% of the global population. In the U.S. alone, they make up about 20%—and that was in 2018. With the sheer volume of this new generation, general contractors should stop and get to know Gen Z a bit as if they were a prospective client.
Because in a way, they are a client—without a rock-solid Gen Z recruitment strategy, your company won't last as the later generations continue to phase out.
If these next several points below were distilled down to four words, they’d be: "Treat them like humans.” Obvious, right? You'd be surprised at how low the bar's been set before now; Gen Z is just the first to speak up. Generation Z has high expectations of their higher-ups, from the promise of a work-life balance to a clear progression track. Without these elements and more, recruiting this recent wave of workers will feel like an upstream swim for GCs. No more article spoilers, let's dig in.
Work is everything when you're looking through the lens of a hirer, but it's also not. In other words, Gen Zers want balance.
No matter the industry, Gen Z wants a flexible work environment with more fluid schedules and remote options if the role allows for it. Certain positions are more hands-on, sure, especially if they involve frequenting the job-site. But your sales team? They’d rather save the gas money, meal prep at home, brew their own oat milk lattes, and take a 20 minute walk to hear a little of the new Steve Lacy album on their AirPod Maxes.
Respect for your employees' personal lives can only raise the quality of the work. There's a labor shortage as-is. It'd be best not to burn out your younger hires so they go find greener, more flexible pastures. Part of the reason why the construction industry is so unattractive to the Gen Z workforce compared to other, "flashier" industries is a perceived inflexibility.
Working your teams into the dirt won’t work like it did the generations prior. This time, the budding newbies of the workforce need assurance that they won’t be taking work home. They won’t be taking low (see also: average) pay either for work they're qualified for, or the expectation that they reply to their email on the weekends (barring a work-mergency, of course).
Once you promise a life outside of your GC, and acknowledge that there's much more to life than toiling away at a job, Gen Z will lend their ears (and 40 hours of their time per week).
It’s no wonder they’re known as the “entrepreneurial” generation. Whether or not that applies to TikTok stars and IG influencers, the common denominator is clear: agency. Gen Zers want to be responsible for creating their own futures. You can cater to this by giving them a say in their progression track, such as offering lateral shifts in your GC depending on transferable skills, or simply telling them how long it’ll likely take to climb to the next rung.
Of course, this level of transparency requires follow-through, or a breach in trust will spell them deciding to answer those eager LinkedIn recruiters in their DMs. If you need time to figure out when that next rung actually is feasible for your company, just be honest with them. Better to air on the side of caution than to create a potentially unfixable rift due to a misestimation coming off as a lie.
To top this off, you could inform them of what they need to do before that promotion or raise is offered: A skill they need, knowledge they require, certifications they lack. One of your employees may feel a bit underused in their current role, or have skills that are better utilized for another title. Giving them these options allows for agency, and gives them a clear view of what’s ahead.
Everyone wants to feel like they're in control. You'll retain yours longer if you're generous with how much control you grant.
More broadly, Gen Z wants job security in the form of annual raises. Three out of four of them, as well as millennials, expect a raise every year to stay put, so skimping on the yearly bumps won’t keep young workers around for long. Whether it’s their job title or their salary, it’ll be tough to recruit Gen Zers without giving them a say and being consistent with pay.
Forget buying homes, a large chunk of Gen Z can't afford rent. A recent survey showed that 29% of Gen Z lives at home. They're trying to claw their way into financial freedom and they can't do it without the financial part.
If you’re not in a growing phase, hiring on additional employees rather than promoting within may rub Gen Zers the wrong way. Especially if they haven’t been provided that annual raise. There's a blurred line between justified and entitled; at the end of the day, people of every generation crave that feeling of upward momentum. Informing Gen Zers of the financial advancement that awaits—similarly to a scaling comp plan for a sales rep—will also engage them.
Perks are fine. A Gen Zer might even say they're mid at best.
Perks got a lot of attention in the early 2010s because places like (the company formally known as) FaceBook were giving head scratches during free 3-star-Michelin-chef-procured lunches while the faint sound of Adele's live unplugged set in the break-room trickled into the Massage Zone.
But the fact of the matter is that you don't want perks to be your primary hiring incentive or you'll be staffed with a bunch of perk-heads who'll jump ship at the first sighting of an office jacuzzi on a fifth floor.
Here are a few perks that, against popular belief, do not instill the same level of goodwill as a fatter paycheck:
A ping-pong table
"Infinite" vacation (A rare case of too much flexibility equaling less of it due to pressure not to take work off)
We're not saying do away with any or all of these things if you already are implementing them. In fact, if you don't have Bagel Fridays currently, what are you thinking?
Perks do help to some degree, and many of them snowball to a general sense of goodwill toward a company. But if it's a choice between a Starbucks built into the lobby or a higher salary, your Gen Z hire still wants to escape living with their parents.
Pro tip: Generally, the most effective perks at GCs are ones that benefit the employees' lives outside of work. Forget the office ping-pong table and instead give your employees phone bill credits or Nintendo Switches. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe isn't going to play itself in bed. And Animal Crossing is construction, sort of.
A big preference of Gen Z's is being able to work with people their own age. Cluster-hiring them rather than “token” hiring will keep them comfortable in their roles because they’ll have people to relate with. Most Gen Zers are young and a few years away from having kids, after all, so planting one in a workplace of Gen X and Boomers may not be the most relatable tactic.
By bulk hiring ambitious Gen Zers, you’re contributing to a more comfortable workplace atmosphere—and besides fair pay, that’s the best way to keep an employee. These young workers don’t want to come to work and slave away, heads down. They want to connect with their co-workers, tell some jokes here and there, drop that completely above-belt burn in the #random Slack channel, and ultimately feel human. Work is work at the end of the day, but it doesn’t have to be a drag for the whole 8-9 hours.
As Kendrick Lamar once put it: "Everybody put three fingers in the air. The sky is falling, the wind is calling. Stand for something or die in the morning. Section.80. HiiiPower." The middle "stand for something" sentence is what we really want to key in on here.
Lastly and most deeply, if your company is supporting the local or broader community in some way, it’s important to communicate that to your potential Gen Z hires early on. Gen Zers, by and large, care about social and environmental causes that better the world. So, aligning your GC with that mindset is a great way to earn the trust and loyalty of a budding employee. Not just because it gives hires a sense of honor but because it's an actually honorable thing to be doing.
Is your company donating to any major causes? Maybe you’ve built shelters with Habitat for Humanity, or schools for the disenfranchised, or are a corporate partner with a local nonprofit. These are marks of credibility among Gen Zers, and making this information known will assure them that their core values are also held close by the company they devote their time to. Your environmental, social, or any other mission-based initiatives allow your brand to be personified—almost as if it’s a good friend with similar values.
Inform Gen Zers of your company’s alignments, supported causes, and human nature to attract the candidates that’ll stick around for the long haul.
Seriously, you should sign up to be a construction insider. Everyone will be so jealous of you.