Apr 25, 2022

What Makes Gen Z the Why

Why Gen Z is the future to tap for the water industry

Clarence Wittwer
Clarence Wittwer, owner and chief operating officer of Wittwer Environmental

So you survived the wonderfully boring March article and all of the details about what divides the generations. Boomers read it and rolled their eyes at the lazy, flannel and combat boots wearing Gen X guy writing it, but that’s OK because we Gen X folk practically invented the art of not caring what others think.

The downside to that is that my fellow Gen X members read it and did not really care. Again, we own that stereotype. Millennials rolled their eyes too but were still curious and read on, being more tolerant of us old people. Gen Z read like the first few sentences and then lost interest, but that is OK because they are also the most accepting of everyone, so my ramblings were likely forgiven.

So, we beat the characteristics into the ground last month and now we need to dive right into the WHY of Gen Z and how they are our ideal workforce replacement. They are our ideal generation because of simple math and the lunar cycle. Boomers and Gen X are retiring. The first few years of the Millennial generation are now in their 40s and planning for their own retirements. It’s nothing but cold hard numbers. The time of Gen Z is here. The world will soon be theirs, whether you like it or not.

But why? We covered Gen Z and their relationship to tech last month and ended with a teaser of how Gen Z wants face-to-face communications despite their connection to technology. In fact, in numerous studies by both the PEW research Center and the Brookings Institute, it has been revealed that the bulk of Gen Z desire face-to-face communications with their co-workers. Further details in these studies identify some more traits that make Gen Z perfect for our industry. Not only do they have a keen sense about their impact on the environment, but they have a deep need to make an impact on the world, to be a part of something bigger. But they very much value their privacy, have an aversion to debt and are the most diverse and accepting generation.

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Many people in our industry serve because of the impact they can make all while staying behind the scenes. I know it is one of my favorite things about being in the water and wastewater world. Some may not know this, but I am a police academy graduate as well as a paramedic program graduate, both from the local college. I went on to serve as a volunteer 9-1-1 medic for almost a decade. The feeling of helping people was immense, but each time I served a shift on the ambulance, I helped that one person on the stretcher. Our law enforcement professionals experience the same – they help that one person at a time. I am not trying to diminish their importance, but we in water and wastewater help thousands, sometimes millions of people everyday, behind the scenes. Gen Z truly desires this kind of impact.

I mentioned briefly that Gen Z desires to avoid debt. They abhor the thought of student loans and debt in general. What does that mean? That I was just looking for an excuse to use the word abhor in a sentence? Well, yes...but also it means we have a workforce that is ideal for a trade that usually requires no college in the first few years of the career, provides paid training for the staff, and usually offers good benefits. Another interesting note, most Gen Z interviewed will tell you that pay is not their primary interest.

I also mentioned earlier about the diversity aspect. While there have been some significant strides in recent years to expand the diversity of our trade, we still have one of the lowest percentages of women in our workplace compared to others. Gen Z answers this because they see less of a dividing line between the genders when it comes to tech. This is a positive that has come from their always-on environments. In fact, a study by the PEW Research Center titled “Teens, Social Media & Technology” found that while in the early part of the last decade, only 26% of girls played video games compared to 56% of boys but fast forward to 2018 and the numbers were 83% and 97%. We can only assume that four years later these numbers have changed again.

We have moved completely past the industrial age and fully into the technology age. We finally have a generation that is naturally prepared to work in the new technology landscape of our water and wastewater world. There is no longer a gender line unless we impose one. We have an entire potential workforce that has lived daily IoT their entire lives. Augmented reality is a daily part of their video games. The characteristics that we need are finally right there. It is up to us to find them and get them into our field. But how?

Next month we will look at creative programs around the country and highlight more Gen Z details that will impact how you can recruit them.

About the author

Clarence Wittwer is the owner and chief operating officer of Wittwer Environmental. Wittwer can be reached at clarence@wittwerenvironmental.com.

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