By Reid Cox, founder and CFO of iFoster
Gen Z are very different than any generation before them. Are you providing what they need?
Who are Gen Z?
Gen Z are young people born between 1997 and 2012 who are currently between 9 to 24 years old. There are 67 million of them, approximately 24 percent of the population, and they are the future of your business – your customers, your staff and the influencers who will impact the buying preferences of your customers and the values of your staff. Here at iFoster we work with more than 30,000 of them across every state. And this generation is very different than any that have come before them – so get ready!
What is unique about Gen Z?
Gen Z’s are the most racially and ethnically diverse of any generation. And they are the first generation that has entirely grown up with the Internet. This access to information and diversity drives their need for community, their social consciousness and their concerns for their future. At the same time, it drives their entrepreneurial spirit and desire to learn, question, improve and try things a new way.
What is your experience employing Gen Z?
At iFoster we’ve trained more than 1,000 of the most at-risk Gen Z youth, youth who are aging out of the foster care system. We train Gen Z to work at our 40-plus employer partners who hire our youth to predominantly entry-level grocery, retail, hospitality and leisure positions. We ourselves employ more than 100 Gen Z foster youth every year as the single largest employer of foster youth.
The proof is in our outcomes: 87 percent of Gen Z foster youth graduating our jobs program earn living-wage employment and progress within three to six months to higher level jobs while continuing with their post-secondary education. The Gen Z foster youth who work for iFoster have a slightly higher (93 percent) retention rate. By contrast, youth aging out of the foster care system without iFoster suffer the worst outcomes of any youth population. Within four years of aging out, 50 percent of foster youth are unemployed and experiencing homelessness. Those employed are only earning $7,500 a year. And less than 3 percent earn a post-secondary degree, the gateway to higher paying jobs.
While a record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November, we have a waiting list of youth wanting to work at iFoster and a waiting list of employer partners wanting to hire our youth.
We have found that Gen Z youth are fantastic employees who are searching for a place that shares their values and values them. If your company is pulling out its collective hair trying to figure out how to engage and retain Gen Z, we’re happy to share our top 3 experiences.
What are your top 3 ways to engage and retain Gen Z?
- Social Purpose Matters – Gen Z wants to know what your company supports and what their time and money will be supporting. If your company’s mission and values statements say you support the local community, then you must show it, and show it in a sustainable way. Gen Z want to fix the problems they have inherited, not put a Band Aid on them. Donating food to those who are hungry is clearly important, but investing in improving the lives of the most vulnerable members of your community by helping them out of poverty will have lasting impact. And this is what this generation wants. As an example, here at iFoster we say we are “for us, by us” which means that we are committed to helping the foster care community by training and hiring our own. Not only is this peer model highly effective in serving our community, but it is a powerful motivator for those who work for us as it allows them to invest their time doing what is important to them. We would encourage all employers to train, hire and promote your most vulnerable community members.
- Embrace Diversity – To create a welcoming environment for your community, you must reflect the community, in all its forms. Inclusion is a critical concept for Gen Z. It is not a goal, or a quota or tokenism, it is authentically reflecting the community you serve. At iFoster, we witness the power of this every day. We run the largest national peer resource navigation program where we hire hundreds of Gen Z who have aged out of foster care to connect their peers in care and those aging out to the resources they need to become successful, independent adults. And since the foster care system is over-represented minority, LGBTQ and differently abled, we naturally benefit from the wealth of diversity that makes up our community. The power of this is incredible. Not only does the community have an authentic relationship with each other, but our young people serve as role models and shape the dreams and lives of those who are coming behind them. This is why we have a waiting list to work for us, and we have a 97 percent retention rate. We represent the community we serve.
- Meet Your Customers, Employees and Stakeholders Where They Are – Gen Z is showing up with less experience, more questions and a belief that they have a right to their opinions more than previous generations. In reality, what they need is for an organization to engage with them, provide them information, meeting them where they are and investing in bringing them along. This may be more engagement than we’re all used to, but the return is worth it. In fact, the return requires it. This is a core value that we live by at iFoster. We strive to meet our youth where they are – whether they are a client, a youth we are training for a job in the private sector or a young person we’ve hired to serve other foster youth. Like any other generation, they want to be individually successful, but they have an intense social pressure to improve the world around them at the same time.
Thanks for the information, but is there anything you can do to help my company engage Gen Z?
We are more than happy to share the two programs we believe have had the most impact in engaging and retaining our Gen Z foster youth. If we can achieve this with the most vulnerable (and less employment stable) Gen Z population, then imagine the results you can deliver by investing in meeting this next generation where they are, engaging and coaching them, and embracing their differences and diversity with authenticity and respect.
- Join our national social purpose effort: iFoster Hope. If you would like to support your local foster youth population by getting them the resources and opportunities they need to become successful independent adults, improve your local community and quite possibly finding your next loyal customers and staff, we would love to partner with you. Our iFoster Hope campaign is a national campaign to raise awareness and funds to provide critical resources and opportunities for children and youth in foster care. Funds are invested back into the communities from which they are raised through iFoster’s network of more than 3,800 local foster care agencies. In 2020, Weis Markets launched the first iFoster Hope round-up campaign and raised $250,000 to support local foster youth across its seven-state footprint. These funds were distributed in weeks through iFoster’s network directly to specific children and youth to meet their specific needs.
- Learn from our award winning iFoster Jobs Program for hiring and retaining Gen Z: Our iFoster Jobs Program can provide you with self-directed trainings for your new employees to build their fundamental job skills. Our jobs curriculum has been evaluated by the Administration for Children & Family Services as a promising practice for foster youth and can help ensure you meet your employees where they are in their skills development. We are also rolling out workshops for employers on how best to coach (vs supervise) their Gen Z’ers to a high performance, loyal team. And of course, if you have job opportunities, we have trained youth. Not everywhere and not every youth is ideally suited for your job opportunity, which is why we take the time to understand your employment needs and match youth to job opportunities based on alignment of your need and their skills.