Workforce Development

Work Force Z

We need a 21st Century framework that better balances the needs, interests and aspirations of all workers.

Tomorrow’s workforce is already here, and the workers who comprise it are likely to demand changes in the system that has largely remained the same for more than 100 years.

This year marked the beginning of Generation Z entering into the professional work force, as the oldest of the generation prepares to turn 22. Their workstyles and preferences are different than the generations that came before them. Born as the World Wide Web was being commercialized, when eBay began, as mobile phones were becoming affordable and available, and as DVDs made their debut, the world was becoming more mobile and everything became more available. Gen Z took note.

A 2014 survey by Northeastern University found that the typical Gen Z member is entrepreneurial and highly self-directed, demanding to be in charge of their own future. A few more of the interesting revelations about Gen Z:

•    They want to control their economic destiny, believing that entrepreneurship is the best path. 42% expect to work for themselves. 59% of Latinos desired the same. 60% of African Americans did as well.

•    They are taking control now. 72% said that colleges should allow students to completely design their own college courses and majors.

•    They seek to gain practical skills and genuine experience. 79% want colleges to integrate work experience with coursework in order to give them a better chance to compete in the workplace.

•    They blend the use of technology into their lives, rather than replace their lives with technology. 38% make most of their purchases online. 15% prefer social media to in person interactions.

But, they are about to run headlong into a workforce largely opposed to the freedom they seek.

Increasingly, sharing economy platforms, such as Uber, HomeAway, Taskrabbit or Thumbtack enable services to be available on demand provided by people who want to use their time and resources to earn income in a flexible way, a way in which they determine when they work, where they work, why they work and how they work. Human capital blended with a technology infrastructure and a free market to deliver what is needed and providing benefits to the provider as well.

Unfortunately though, government hinders or outright stops this evolution with laws and regulations that fail to understand or care about this new economy as many federal and state labor laws stand in opposition to worker freedom and choice. The system is largely binary; a person is either an employee or a contract worker. If a generous company wanted to provide benefits to its contractors, those contractors would likely be reclassified as employees, raising the cost to the company essentially penalizing the company for helping people. If an employee wanted the freedom to operate independently, a company is likely to appropriately make them an independent contractor so they are not responsible for what happens outside of the organization’s purview. Any loss of benefits is a penalty borne by the independent minded employee.

And a thicket of labor class action lawsuits continues to drive this limited worldview. According to Business Week, a dozen of these lawsuits currently involve start-ups and classification of workers. Rather than allowing individuals and employers the freedom to pursue a mix that works best for them, government rules force people into a box that may work for no one, except the regulators. As just one example, Thumbtack, “an online service that connects people with skilled local professionals to get their projects done” reports that 84% of those who find business on Thumbtack “Love what they do.” Meanwhile, Gallup found that generally in the workforce a mere 29% of American workers are “engaged” at work.

We need a 21st Century framework that better balances the needs, interests and aspirations of all workers. One that empowers them to find a way to be productive in ways they find valuable, not in a way that government dictates.


In Depth: Workforce Development

American businesses are increasingly worried about the quality of the workforce pool from which they will be hiring. Too few American students are graduating high school or college with the skills employers need. And while college is a pathway to career success for many students, it’s far from the only …

+ Workforce Development In Depth