Gen Z in the Workforce: Key Takeaways for the Future from the Judges’ Table

In the last few years, a pivotal shift has taken place in the working world: Gen Z has jumped into the workforce.

That’s right. Gen Z is old now. Well, not “old” per se, but they’re no longer tweens and early teens. The eldest are a few years into their career and many are in the midst of their college education. It’s estimated that by 2030, they’ll make up 30% of the workforce. This generation brings a breath of fresh air with new skillsets, priorities, and an eagerness to make their mark on the world.

Young people holding signs about climate and nature

I was recently selected as a judge for District 10 of the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) and had a front-row seat to watch this generation pitch campaigns and programs.  As I read their plans and evaluated their presentations, a few things became abundantly clear about the future of the workforce – and the immense value the Gen Z workforce brings to the communications industry.

They’ve Got Next-level Digital Chops

We know digital fluency is table stakes for this generation. But the students I met during the competition are constantly building out their skillset. They’re learning to code in their free time, teaching themselves graphic design to create NFTs and digital collectibles, or amassing huge followings on social media by promoting their personal brand.

In every presentation I judged, students pushed well beyond the idea stage to bring digital concepts to life, from building fully functional apps as an “example” to filming (and going viral) with a TikTok series, just to prove their social strategy will work.

The implication? This generation will bring digital competencies and technical skills to boot. Digital marketers by nature have their finger on the pulse of what’s trending and can not only dream up innovative digital ideas but execute them, too. Paired with seasoned PR pros with decades of experience, the stage is set for a beautiful intergenerational synergy.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) are Imperative for this Generation

To Gen Z, DE&I is a requirement, and they bring this mindset to every business challenge.

This mindset showed up across each proposal I evaluated. Students created nonbinary target audience personas, developed ad campaigns to promote hero women in STEM, and recommended partnerships with organizations that are racially and LGBTQ+ inclusive. Their aspirations are rooted in their desire for an equitable future, and they see the communications industry as a promising place to start.

The implication? Gen Z cares so deeply about diversity, in part, because they are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet. This new generation of professionals has accountability and progress on the mind, and they’re pushing for brands to show up authentically. The strong sense of social justice they bring to the workplace is an asset to clients seeking DE&I counsel and programming that makes a tangible difference.

Purpose Sits at the Forefront of Gen Z’s Mind

If you’ve followed along with generational trends in the workforce, it probably doesn’t surprise you that the Gen Z workforce is bringing purpose-driven thinking to their professional endeavors.

And while the NSAC brief didn’t mention sustainability or corporate social responsibility, the tactical recommendations from each team reflected their purpose-forward priorities. Nearly every team put forth a creative execution centered around a positive planetary impact or CSR initiative.

The implication? Gen Z’s passion for cause marketing is valuable for clients and internal teams alike. Because this generation cares so deeply about purpose-driven causes, they’re an authentic barometer of what will resonate in media and other communications channels. Be it mental health, carbon sequestration, or food insecurity and hunger, Gen Z has a deep desire to do work that matters to the world, and they see their careers as a way to make a difference.

My experience judging this year’s NSAC competition reminded me of the new and necessary perspective that this next generation of media mavens, PR pros and advertising A-listers will bring to communications, encouraging the rest of us to dive even deeper into the digital world and think harder about how our day jobs can make a lasting impact on the greater good.

Embracing Gen Z’s differences and remembering our commonalities creates a recipe for success, and – to echo Ketchum’s tagline – provides a perfect blend of empathy + intelligence. If you need some assistance in navigating Gen Z marketing or the workforce of the future, please contact us.

Ketchum author Beth Beasley

Beth is an integral driver of business development at Ketchum. Grounded in traditional journalism, she is a growth catalyzer for the agency’s 12 industries spanning a multimillion-dollar pipeline. Valued for her organizational prowess, writing ability and global relationships spanning the larger Omnicom network, Beth leverages her passion for storytelling across digital and traditional mediums. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s journalism school, she has an unwavering love and appreciation for AP Style.