In the wake of an extraordinary 2020, what does our survey of 9,000 Gen Z respondents tell us about the issues that give them most concern right now, how may these be influencing what they want from their careers, as well as what attracts them to organisations, and their view on business and the impact of Covid-19?
According to a survey Groundbreakers: Gen Z and the Future of Accountancy, by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and IFAC (the International Federation of Accountants), the issues that most concern Gen Z accountants are job security, and the need to update their capabilities continually to remain employable in the future.
The survey results are clear: Gen Z are worroed about the future, they cite well-being as a major concern and they’re attracted to organisationas that support their mental health and offer a good work-life balance.
For Gen Z, it’s personal, with worries on job security and well-being highest. Generation Z are entering a disrupted workplace. At the heart of their career aspirations is the economic and social context they have been witness to as they come of age, coupled with an unprecedented last 12 months, presenting particular concerns about job opportunities and security, well-being and mental health. The data shows that personal concerns such as these rank significantly higher for our survey respondents than issues impacting wider society such as climate change, and inclusivity and equality. It’s possible that these issues have been temporarily moved down the priority list given the severe personal challenges presented by
Gen Z prize organisations that provide them with opportunities to acquire skills and a good work-life balance. Job insecurity may be their biggest concern, but that doesn’t mean they’re intent on accepting just any job to ‘play safe’. Our data suggests they attack these insecurities with a quite different strategy, seeking organisations that can provide them with continuous skills acquisition and a good work-life balance, and these factors score highly when it comes to satisfaction with employers for those Gen Z already in the workplace. But other key attraction factors such as high compensation, opportunities to work internationally and rapid advancement are less well matched, possibly suggesting retention challenges for employers. Perhaps surprisingly the data suggests the environmental, social and ethical record of an organisation or other issues such as the inclusive and diverse nature of its workforce are less important in the attraction stakes. This again could be a reflection of the pandemic and a possible (all be it temporary) reordering of priorities.
Gen Z are an ambitious group, those already in employment want progression fast, and many expect to have career portfolios. Across the board, Gen Z want career progression quickly. They see workplace transformation all around them and want to benefit from this. For Gen Z, the workplace is fluid and transitional, where opportunities must be seized. 60% expect to move role within two years, almost 2/3 expect their next role to be a promotion and half are eyeing an external move. It seems they are quite happy to take their talents elsewhere if they believe their needs aren’t being met. Remarkably almost 2/3 suggest they expect to have multiple careers in different disciplines in the future, suggesting this is a generation more open to the career portfolio.
The digital natives see tech opportunities but worry about their own jobs. The generation raised on digital and social media are unsurprisingly comfortable with technology and see a future world of work that is connected and transformed through it, mostly on the upside. Most expect technology to impact entry level roles in accountancy but also see the benefits to the accountancy profession to focusing on higher value work. They understand that smart technology will continue to change what type of work is done, where it is done, and how it is delivered. Yet they’re also a generation that has been hard hit economically over the last 12 months and as they have come of age they have witnessed technology being adopted at scale and replacing jobs. It’s no surprise, then, that they have concerns over the impact of digital tech on their own job opportunities.
Gen Z express doubts on the role of business. Respondents to our survey trust that businesses are using technology developments to improve the workplace, and whilst they see organisations focused on maximising return for investors, they are less sure about the extent to which businesses are prioritising customer needs and taking care of their employees. Less than half agree that business leaders have integrity and do what they say, and less than 2/5 agree businesses contribute to fighting climate change. Some of these issues have garnered greater focus since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it does suggest longer term in the minds of younger people the image of business.
A career in accountancy is seen as attractive and a gateway to opportunity. Today there is a brilliant opportunity for the profession to rethink and to build on its strong heritage as a qualification for business. Overall our data suggests that Gen Z believe the profession is attractive as a career providing long term prospects, and it’s seen as providing a portable qualification that enables careers to span internationally and across industries. But more tellingly, messaging on the broader contribution accountants can make may not always be clearly understood. Only a minority of respondents see accountants working in business as playing a leading role in reporting on sustainability issues or creating business value that impacts wider society. Just over 1/3 suggest accountants play a “leading role” in ensuring the ethical governance of business. There are more opportunities for the profession to message the attractiveness of the profession and how accountants can make a real difference to wider societal issues.
Gen Z views across sectors are significantly different. Analysing our data by sector, it’s apparent there are marked differences in views expressed by Gen Z working in different sectors. Lack of job opportunities / job security is cited as the greatest concern by those respondents in smaller accounting firms, the public sector and the charity / not for profit sector, but its personal well-being and mental health for those in larger accountancy firms and those in the corporate sector. This is a particular issue in larger accounting firms as respondents are much more likely to cite poor work-life balance as a career barrier. Differences also prevail in what attracts individuals into the profession by sector, with those in the public sector citing opportunities to acquire a professional qualification as the number one priority, but for those in the larger accounting firms this is not even in the top 5 priorities. There is also a question as to whether smaller organisations and the public sector have a greater retention issue, with respondents in all these sectors much more likely to suggest their next move is external compared to respondents from larger businesses.