Are the Gen Z Truly the ‘Lost Generation’? An Insight from Lena Yam, Dell Financial Services

July 29, 202112:43 pm1458 views

The long-term toll of the Coronavirus on the job market is yet unknown, but its effect on employment is already severe. Gen Z, the youngest generation in the workforce today, is impacted the worst. Many of them who were just beginning their career journey are suddenly laid off or furloughed, while those who recently graduated are struggling to land their first jobs.

Entering adulthood during a pandemic, Gen Z is often portrayed as the ‘Lost Generation’ that has to grapple with career progression opportunities. In the light of this phenomenon, HR in Asia invites Lena Yam, VP, Dell Financial Services, Asia Pacific, Japan & China (APJC), Dell Technologies to share her views on how Gen Z can improve their chance in the future of work.

Stay tuned and get enlightened!


Question: Lena, the global pandemic is hitting Gen Z hard with massive job loss and business shutdowns. As the youngest generation entering adulthood, do you think that Gen Z is truly the ‘lost generation’ scarred by the current crisis?

Answer: While sentiments expressed in the media have portrayed Generation Z (Gen Z) as ‘lost’ amidst a global economy battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, that is not necessarily true. 

Gen Z (born 1996 – 2012) is considered to be amongst the youngest of the youth population in Singapore. This generation has certainly been dealt an unfortunate hand with the global pandemic impacting nearly every facet of their day-to-day lives. Their education and career progression, in particular, has taken a significant impact – unemployment rates among young people have seen a bigger increase compared to adults, according to preliminary data from the International Labour Organisation.

There are also warnings of possible “wage scarring effects”, whereby those employed after recessions may need to contend with a lasting dent to their wages and an impact on their life trajectories. Despite a less than positive prospect, Generation Z has been resilient in its outlook and handling of this. They are embracing continuous learning at work, and also actively pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities to learn valuable life skills and earn some side cash. 

My interactions with today’s youth have been very positive, with many of those I have interacted with being clear communicators driven by purpose and conviction in their work. If this is indicative of the wider population of Gen Z, I am optimistic about their future and remain confident in their contribution to the future economy.

Question: What can the youth do to improve their chance and mitigate the effects of career scarring due to prolonged lockdowns?

Answer: As countries around the world grapple with one of the worst recessions in history, jobs are proving harder to come by for fresh graduates. Thankfully, there are several avenues today’s youth can explore to improve their chances.

Government initiatives and programmes such as SkillsFuture are excellent avenues for youths to explore. These platforms offer a variety of resources for youths to tap into as they look to build knowledge and attain mastery of skills, beyond just having the right paper qualification. This can significantly improve the chances of landing a dream role.  

Mentorship and internship programmes are another great way to build up professional skills and can help determine where you want your career to head in the future. Organisations across various industries are offering such opportunities, and youths can kickstart their career development by picking out an industry of interest as this can help determine where they want their career to head in the future.  

Above all, being open-minded about job opportunities is important. Career trajectories are rarely linear, and being open to considering varied opportunities, especially those within sectors that are often overlooked, can create new possibilities.

Question: Gen Z values job security but also yearns to work for companies that bring positive social impact. How will this affect future recruitment? 

Answer: By 2025, Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce, and they will grow to become the majority in years to come.

Gen Z looks for more than just monetary benefits from work, they want to work for socially or environmentally responsible organisations. Our research on this generation revealed that in Singapore, 58% of them want work that has meaning and purpose beyond getting paid. 4 in 10 respondents said they want to work in places that are socially or environmentally responsible. As such, it is a business imperative for organisations to drive ESG initiatives meaningfully and create a work environment that provides purpose beyond just getting paid to attract the brightest talent of the growing Gen Z workforce.

Known as the “digital natives” or the “internet generation”, it is a given that Gen Z has advanced technology and data science skills. Our research shows that more than two-thirds of Gen Z in Singapore rank their technology literacy as good or excellent. Organisations should look to harness Gen Z’s confidence in their technical skills. Reverse mentoring can be a fantastic way to do this. By pairing younger employees with senior team members, organisations can offer both the junior and senior employees the opportunity to mentor each other and create opportunities to share their tech knowledge with the wider team. At Dell Technologies, we do this through our Millennials as Mentors initiative. Organised by our employee resource group, GenNext, the initiative aims to create an environment that supports the growth and empowerment of young talent within the company.

Question: Youth unemployment rate is rising, so what’s the best organisations can do to help improve job opportunities for this generation?

Answer: The World Economic Forum reports that talent, not technology, is the key to success in a digital future and this rings particularly true in today’s employment landscape. To prevent the pandemic from dampening the career progression of the younger generation, organisations must take the lead in developing initiatives to give them a leg up.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to support younger generations is to create avenues for effective mentorship. One of the ways we do this at Dell Technologies is through our MentorConnect programme – a cross-company mentorship programme dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. As part of the programme, mentors (senior representatives from participating companies) are partnered with mentees to develop both the hard and soft skills necessary for the next stage in their careers.

Question: Being a leader, have you experienced working side by side with Gen Z? How do they perform at work, compared to their older counterparts? Do you notice any significant differences?

Answer: The interns and recent graduates whom I’ve had the privilege to work with at Dell Technologies are resourceful, innovative, and hardworking. We recently engaged them to organise a virtual tour for senior executives from our headquarters, and it was a huge success. They collaborated with team members remotely and leveraged technology in their planning and execution. I was also impressed with their willingness to listen to feedback, and their desire to improve their quality of work in the process.

I have noticed that this generation is curious, more ready to speak up, ask questions and offer ideas and suggestions. They are also spontaneous when it comes accessing information and data digitally. I like to include them in team discussions because they provide diverse perspectives, which is key to innovation. This also presents a good opportunity for senior team members to learn to be more inclusive and adaptable. A recent example of this in action was when we were working on process improvement. The value the Gen Zs bring to the table really shone through. Our interns and recent graduates were able to challenge whether certain processes were still relevant and necessary, and brainstorm for innovative solutions. This was possible simply because they do not carry any “legacy” or “baggage” of existing processes and can look at things from a fresh perspective.

The future of the Asia Pacific region is one where technology will play a key role in how organisations operate. We’ve seen this with the arrival of the digitally savvy Gen Zs and the impact of the pandemic that has consolidated years of digital transformation efforts into a few months. As digital natives, the Gen Zs are in the best position to navigate and thrive in this future of work with their digital skills.

At the same time, Gen Zs are more than willing to share their knowledge, and organisations can use this to their advantage to empower today’s multigenerational workforce. Our study on Gen Z suggests that more than half of the respondents prefer to work together as a team rather than independently, and they also value human interaction in the workplace despite having grown up as digital natives. Peer teaching and collaborative learning such as sharing workshops can facilitate the exchange of knowledge and help the workforce become more future-ready.

Question: As a mother of two Gen Zers, what lessons have you learned from them during the pandemic?

Answer: With working from home becoming the new norm, I have had the chance to witness Gen Z’s grit, drive, and resilience through my two children. My daughter, a Gen Zer herself, has tried to secure a coding internship during the pandemic to no avail, but that did not deter her from seeking out another application. She took it in her stride, adopting a growth mindset to view every interview as a learning opportunity to do better the next time. At the same time, she is also proactively seeking out opportunities to improve her hard and soft skills by building a chatbot and seeking mentorship opportunities.

I believe that she, like many other youths today, understands the importance of continuous learning and development, especially amidst a constantly evolving world of work. Gen Z’s grit and never-give-up attitude continue to amaze me. While they appear to do it with ease, we can see that they are putting in long hours and hard work. Their strong work ethic will go a long way, particularly when they become good habits that they bring to the workplace. These are admirable traits that anyone, regardless of age, can benefit from.

We know that innovation is all about trying and failing repeatedly. At the workplace, we need to commit to building a safe environment for them to fail and create opportunities and networks for them to learn from team members across the organisation. Providing them with affirmation and authentic recognition will go a long way in boosting their morale.

Question: From your observation, what are some characteristics or mindsets that Gen Zers need to change to survive and thrive in the post-Covid world?

Answer: Being more flexible and agile to anticipate and develop in-demand skills is the best hedge against uncertainty in the post-Covid world. As the world of work changes, the most important asset and wisest investment to have in one’s career portfolio is the drive to constantly learn and evolve.

Nobody could have predicted the extent to which the pandemic has accelerated digitalisation. That is why I would encourage everyone to think about skills as a “currency” in the modern-day career portfolio. I believe that we each need a career portfolio that creates growth, balance, and security. Adopting a skill-based mindset – having the drive and agility to build in-demand skills to enhance your career – is the best way to achieve this.


About

Lena Yam is Vice President of Dell Financial Services (DFS) – Dell Technologies’ financial services arm – in Asia Pacific, Japan and China (APJC). Lena joined the company in 2000 to start up its financial services arm in South Asia, and subsequently expanded her role across APJC. During her tenure, she established the in-country operating model and developed a robust network of regional funders. She also launched several key initiatives, such as on-demand financing models and Transformational Software Licensing programs.

Lena graduated from the National University of Singapore, majoring in Economics and Statistics. Lena leads the Diversity and Inclusion pillar within the finance organization at Dell across APJC. She is also the executive sponsor for GenNext in Singapore, a Dell program aimed at creating an environment to support the growth and development of talent by empowering youth as creative and integral partners of the company. Lena was an active parent volunteer in a local primary school and the local sailing community.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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