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Great news for accountants...

Generation Z and accounting

By Ian Lavis on behalf of Praxity

They’re young, mobile, social and wired. They’re entering the workforce. And they’ll be crucial to the future success of your firm. Are you ready to engage with Generation Z?

Post-millennials make up less than one in ten of your workforce today, but they will represent 31% of your staff by 2025, according to social researcher and millennial Claire Madden, a keynote speaker at the recent Praxity Global Conference in Sydney.

This shift in composition of the workforce has far-reaching consequences for the accountancy profession as it adjusts to the digital age and changes in the way we do business.

Post-millennial ‘Gen Z’ are “the most materially endowed, technically literate, formally educated generation to ever grace the planet”, Claire Madden says. And as she explained to delegates at Praxity Global Conference, now is an opportunity to shape and invest in these young people by learning how to attract, engage and retain the brightest Gen Z talent.

So, who exactly are these Gen Z’ers and how can this always online, short attention span generation be engaged long enough to make a valuable contribution to a firm’s growth?

Gen Z values stability
Surprisingly, in a recent study by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), post-millennials – born from the mid 1990’s to the mid-2000’s – demonstrate “an overarching desire for stability”.

IFAC’s Make Way for Gen Z study gives voice to 3,388 individuals between the ages of 18 and 23 in G20 countries regarding two topics: careers and work, and public policy.

Gen Z’ers, who grew up during the global recession and the slow recovery since, are concerned about financial security, and they favour conservatism in government, economics and their careers, according to the IFAC research.

This differs significantly from millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) who were raised in a time of greater prosperity and opportunity, and who social researchers claim value innovation and change, and career independence. It also contrasts markedly with Gen X’ers (born between 1965 and 1980) who give greater priority to work-life balance.

In an article published by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Mariam Riza, intergenerational consultant in Melbourne, Australia, says whereas Gen X’ers introduced the idea of workplace flexibility, seeking time off to look after their kids, and Millennials wanted to work offsite entirely, Gen Z’ers are scared of losing their jobs. “They prefer to come into the office and have a structured role with no distractions,” she says.

Gen Z and accountancy
The good news for accountancy firms is Gen Z’ers see professional accountancy as highly aligned with their top two priorities: offering a stable career path (89% of respondents regard this as important or very important) and competitive salary and benefits (87%), according to IFAC.

Of those polled, 73% of Gen Z’ers are open to a career in professional accountancy while more than one fifth have already committed to pursuing an accountancy career.

Interestingly, Gen Z’ers see the greatest potential for technology to drive job growth in the engineering, accountancy and healthcare fields. This suggests accountancy firms that embrace digital technology have more chance of attracting top Gen Z talent.

Over a third (38%) of Gen Z’ers believe digital and technology advancement will create more jobs in accountancy while 37% think accountancy jobs will get more interesting. However, a third believe jobs will be lost, suggesting it could be difficult to attract new talent.

IFAC warns “sustained effort is needed to inspire Gen Z’ers about the variety of experiences and potential to make a meaningful impact through a career in professional accountancy”.

Globalist vs. nationalist
When it comes to public policy Gen Z’ers want governments to focus on economic stability, quality of education and availability of jobs.

However, they have very different views on a globalist vs. nationalist approach to key public policy issues depending on geography. Gen Z’ers in France and Germany most strongly support international policy collaborations while nationalist sentiment is strongest in China, India, South Africa and Russia.

How to engage Gen Z
Despite the apparent desire of Gen Z’ers for stability, one of the concerns of delegates at Praxity Global Conference was how to engage post-millennials and keep them focused to get things done, especially when they are apparently addicted to being online all the time and easily distracted.

Claire Madden acknowledges this presents a major challenge. She told conference delegates Gen Z’ers could have 17 jobs across 5 careers in their lifetime, working in jobs that don’t even exist right now.

When entering a new role, she said, Gen Z’ers are probably thinking “can I learn some things while I’m here and will that help me with wherever I end up next?”, adding: “What they are often looking for is transferable skills and they have a desire to continue to learn and grow.”

However, they are not afraid of hard work. “Naturally they’ve got shorter attention spans and they are wired....but I also found that they do want to work hard, they do want to contribute,” the social research told delegates.

She urged accountancy firms to focus on communicating an understanding of Gen Z’ers but also to encourage post-millennials to understand the buy-in that they themselves need to make. She said it’s about showing what is required in a role and helping to take them on a journey to get there.

Avoiding generational conflict
Another concern of accountancy firms is how to engage Gen Z’ers without causing generational conflict with millennials, X’ers and even baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 who value loyalty.

It could be said that every generation values job stability and financial security, and that intergenerational differences are overplayed. However, many analysts believe those firms that take time to understand and meet the needs of different generations in their workforce will have more chance of recruiting and retaining top talent. This will require firms to be agile and innovative in their approach, with an emphasis on making jobs interesting and even fun!

The good news is that Gen Z apparently has the most “inclusive mindset” of all the generations. They are said to work well with people from different backgrounds and cultures, so there’s every chance they will get on with different generations too. It’s just a question of making jobs interesting and well-paid enough to encourage them to stick around.