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Are you a digital native? If you’re Millennial or Gen Z, chances are that you’re part of this innovative demographic. Not sure what that exactly means? Here’s a definition of the term from Tech Target:

  • A digital native is a person who grew up with the presence of digital technology or in the information age. Having grown up in IT’s presence, digital natives are comfortable with and fluent in technology. The term contrasts with people who were born before the digital age, who may have more difficulty and be hesitant around learning how to use new technology.

Gen Z is by far the largest demographic of digital natives. They’re also on their way to having some serious influence in the workforce. Gen Z workers currently make up only 11.6% of the labor force in the United States, but are projected to represent 27% of the working population by 2025. Companies that want to attract Gen Z employees (and retain their best + brightest) will need to understand and adapt to their needs. 

We recently interviewed Hannah Grady Williams, founder of d’Skills – a community of Gen Z students, entrepreneurs and young professionals that want to hone their generative AI skills through projects and business ventures. She is also a Gen Z CEO Advisor that helps top employers and talent executives shape their recruiting, retention, and leadership goals for this digital native generation.

Hannah shares her thoughts on creating strong culture and connection in her Gen-Z focused community. She also reveals expert tips on attracting Gen Z employees. Keep reading this exclusive interview to stay ahead in the talent game!

Why Gen Z needs an AI-focused community

“As a Gen Z’er, I suddenly realized that there was this massive disconnect between the corporate world, and what Gen Z was wanting out of it,” Hannah says. “I decided to fill this gap and I wrote a book about it. I now host an amazing podcast, bringing in folks to talk about the native digital vs. native analog way of working, and how workplace culture is shifting.”

Hannah’s corporate experience led her to found d’Skills and prepare Gen Z employees with the generative AI skills they need to succeed in the future of work. “We’re building the first hub for Gen Z’ers who are becoming AI-powered humans, so they’re ready for the digital ways of working in the future.”

She works with a variety of Gen Z students and young professionals – her current community serves high schoolers, older Gen Z’ers in the early stages of their career, and even those exploring nontraditional career paths. Her overarching goal is to help Gen Z’ers become comfortable with using generative AI. And with 31% of Gen Z respondents showing interest in AI skills, her mission is more relevant than ever when it comes to attracting Gen Z employees.

“We’re working with kids as young as 14, all the way up to 26-27 year old adults. Some of them are high schoolers, some are in college, and some are just exploring – they’re in a gap year or they’re trying to figure out ways to learn their skills instead of earning a degree. They want to prove that a portfolio of work is worth a company looking at.” 

Hannah’s efforts are building a workforce that isn’t just prepared for the future, but also ready to innovate.

She wanted to fill educational gap after speaking with Chris Lochhead and Ted Dintersmith (who has spent the last 20-30 years trying to disrupt the American education system).

“About a year ago, Chris, Ted and I had a conversation around how we can change the world of education. Is there a way to create a method that native digitals understand and gravitate toward? Kids nowadays are being told to follow rules instead of being innovative; they’re taught to think inside the box, instead of exploring possibilities and making mistakes.

We wanted to build a solution that would encourage kids to not only have an AI-powered mindset, but also want to be tenacious problem-solvers with an entrepreneurial spirit. We wanted to show them that they can thrive in this era where AI exists.”

Hannah notes that the current education system is shaped to develop “order takers”. She emphasizes that this type of employee is quickly getting replaced in the future of work. “You literally can’t be someone who just receives instructions anymore.”

How d’Skills builds a community culture by Gen Z, for Gen Z 

d’Skills is a relatively new community that launched in May – and its culture evolves with every new member that joins. She’s excited to share the wonders of generative AI with Gen Z’ers that might be unfamiliar with the concept.

“The people who are joining are these Gen Z’ers who have come from all different backgrounds. Some of them are the kids whose parents worry about them being lazy and sitting on their computer all day. They think they’re just gaming, but in reality they’re out there streaming and making money – they’re in Discord channels where they are adding value and working with cryptocurrency.

“Gen Z’ers come from perspectives of extreme excitement about AI or extreme hesitancy, or they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that it’s not useful. When you put those people together, you end up with a group of rebels that won’t listen to what our systems are telling us. We’re going to become AI-powered humans. Our culture is a group of Gen Z rebels who are redefining the system.”

How to create a company culture that attracts Gen Z employees

“One of the major things that Gen Z considers with culture is something I like to call the ‘NarcisStory’. Now, this is meant to sound repelling. There’s some pros and cons to this. It means that Gen Z has lived our entire lives in a very individualistic society, trying to chase after individual gains and paths. Gen Z has become a generation that is extremely self-focused, and it’s only amplified by having social media and personal branding tools. 

When it comes to the way we look at cultures we’re attracted to in a company, we look for ways a brand benefits the personal story that we’re trying to tell, and how we’re crafting our lives.”

However, not everyone remains convinced that this is an integral trait within Gen Z employees. “I’ve told some folks about this and they say, ‘Not every Gen Z’er is out there creating some 30-point plan for exactly what story they wanna tell with their life.’ While that’s true, a lot of us do this subconsciously.

For example, if I am a 13-14 year old kid and I’m a gamer that streams on Twitch all the time, and I’m in the gaming community on Discord, that’s where my community is. When I look for internships, I’m not looking for companies that look so vastly different from the community I grew up in. I’m not going to work for a company that is so out of touch with that community that I’ve built, that I can’t resonate with it at all.”

Two Gen Z girls spending time together and watching videos on their phone.

Why you should appeal to Gen Z’s NarcisStory

“What I often share with companies is if you just even look at this one piece of culture, you have to ask yourself, ‘How well does our brand fit into a Gen Z’ers NarcisStory, instead of the other way around?’”

Hannah notes that employers can take this principle into consideration with the way they structure their recruiting and employer brand materials. 

“One way that you can help speak to Gen Z’ers within their NarcisStory is by simply altering your job descriptions. Instead of saying, ‘We’ve been around for 50 years and we are based in tradition’, instead try saying, ‘If you are a Gen Z’er with X, Y, Z qualities or interests, then you might find this interesting. Here’s who we are.’

I actually had a recent client that published a job description the way her company would’ve published in the past and they barely got any applicants. She used the NarcisStory method just a couple weeks ago – within 24 hours of posting, they had 300 applicants just from shifting the language of that job description towards what fit the Gen Z model.”

A young Gen Z'er applying to jobs on their computer.

Companies are recognizing the need to create cultures that attract Gen Z employees

Throughout her years of consulting, Hannah has experienced a variety of company cultures – both good and bad. Biltmore, the company that manages George W. Vanderbilt’s estate, exemplifies a native analog company that actively works to create an environment that attracts Gen Z employees. However, she notes that it’s difficult for a single company to get everything right.

“Biltmore has a phenomenal employee culture in a few departments that are focused around learning and development, continual growth, as well as leadership in every area. There’s a huge culture of training – managers are trained to really address employee needs. They also partner with an organization that brings people in to just be a listening ear for employees going through hard times. It’s also very multicultural. 

Most of the companies that I work for are larger employers who are trying to get out of the native analog way of working. Aspects of their culture are able to change, but other departments struggle with shifting. There isn’t any company that has made me feel like they’re doing everything right.”

One exception? Tech startups, like Clari, allow leaders to be intentional about crafting their culture from the ground up. 

“From what I’ve observed with the team at Clari, I am just blown away. I think they’re doing so much that’s attractive for any generation, but absolutely for Gen Z’ers who are looking for a place where they can grow very quickly. Around 76% of Gen Z’ers say that they want to be promoted in the first year.” Growth is integral to attracting Gen Z employees.

“While it is a very poor expectation, especially for native analogs, it also doesn’t have to be a promotion of entry-level to VP in a year. You’ve got to have these micro-progressions showing that you’re adding value and that your title is changing. The companies that I’ve witnessed do the best job of creating a culture Gen Z resonates with get that simple fact right, and they’re able to retain us longer.”

Why companies need to experiment when it comes to building Gen Z-focused cultures

When it comes to attracting Gen Z employees, one thing is clear – empathy is important. And sometimes, a radical thought experiment can help your company find any cultural or communicative gaps.

“If I could conduct one magic wand experiment, I’d love to take all the entry-level native digitals and make them executive leadership. I’d flip the structure. I’d be fascinated to see what would happen if suddenly the pressure was on native digitals who have this efficiency-driven mind, who are so conscientious about how to make things better, and see what would happen if you gave them a shot to be leaders. I want to see the impact they’d have if we did that for literally every position in the organization.

It’d be interesting for morale too, because then suddenly you can relate a lot. You might see the VP in your department and think that they’re doing everything wrong. But when you’re in that role, you suddenly see what they’re dealing with. Imagine a manager flipping roles with their direct reports, just to show them the behind the scenes of what happens in an instance where a leader doesn’t realize they’re holding onto things their entry-level employees should be doing.”

Now, you don’t have to make this happen IRL to reap the benefits. Consider having your native analog and native digital employees participate in this thought exercise, where the two groups discuss what they’d change. You might just walk away with some solid strategies on making your workplace run a little better. 

Native digital and older native analog employees collaborating together.

What’s next for Hannah Grady Williams and the d’Skills community?

Hannah is just getting started with her d’Skills community. She encourages any parent to tell their child about the benefits of joining d’Skills. In fact, she’s hosting an Innovators Cup to encourage Gen Z’ers to build their own business with help of ChatGPT. 

“If you’re thinking as a parent, ‘My kid may be going to college for a degree and job that won’t exist for in four years,’ then they need to join this community. This summer, we’re hosting an Innovators Cup where kids can build businesses using GPT and win cash prizes. The winners will also be featured on the Follow Your Different podcast, and will even have the opportunity for their business to be seen by VCs and investors for potential seed funds.”

A promo image for the GPT Innovators Cup, hosted by d'Skills.

You can learn more about the GPT Innovators Cup here – you still have time to join! Are you a Gen Z’er that just wants to fine-tune your generative AI skills? You can join the d’Skills community here.

Do you have any culture-building tools in your tech stack to attract prospective Gen Z employees? Consider using Airspeed’s culture-building Slack apps to show your Gen Z employees that you value their growth, community and connection. 

Install Airspeed’s culture-building Slack apps for free today.

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