Millennials and Generation Z’s will save the world
In homage to this year’s 30 Under 30 Data Economy listing, Natalie Bannerman speaks to Bill Kleyman, EVP of Digital Solutions at Switch, and co-chair of the Millennials/Gen-Z Member Resource Group (MRG) at Infrastructure Masons, about the talent deficit facing the wider technology and infrastructure industry, and how Millennials and Gen-Zs are the solution to that problem.
Starting with the work of the Millennials/Gen-Z MRG, Kleyman says that being part of the group has taught him what true diversity and inclusion (D&I) means.
“Diversity is being asked to the dance and inclusion means being asked to dance, so you are actually on the floor and being part of it,” he says.
As for the resource group itself, which Kleyman co-chairs with Kacey Armstrong of Vertiv, he says it’s all about creating awareness around infrastructure space and a platform for young people in this sector to speak.
“What that means is to try and give a voice to the vision and inspire all of the young people in this world to help them see the kind of things that we can do with technology. And it really doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from you yourself can be a technologist.”
Giving young people a voice to tell the industry and everybody else what they need to be successful, coupled with school outreach at all age levels, is what will drive more to sector and help to solve the growing skills gap.
“We do have a challenge where it is a male-dominated, predominately white and in some cases it is ageist you know and I wrote an article recently saying that Millennials and Gen-Zs are sure to save the world and I do firmly believe that,” he adds.
One crucial component to the D&I conversation is recruitment and retainment, both of which feed into the larger discussion around culture. As Kleyman pointed out, Millennials and certainly Gen-Zs are less likely to go on to University than previous generations, so the way in which we recruit for them must also change.
During a fireside chat with iMasons chairman and founder Dean Nelson, Kleyman remarked that aptitude and attitude should be favoured over experience to attract much needed young talent, a fact that many organisations have yet to catch onto as they continue to look at experience first, followed by attitude and then aptitude, in most cases.
“This needs to be turned on its head because you can’t manage this incoming generation that way,” explains Kleyman.
“Realistically if you want to shape the most amazing and valuable employee you look at their attitude, so are they positive, are they excited to work for you – do they do their research, then their aptitude, their willingness and ability to learn – that is, in my opinion, one of the most important things you can get out of a candidate, are willing to learn and grow.”
“Then you might want a little bit of experience,” he continues. “But you can shape the experience to make it what you need for your organisation, so you get a valued employee someone who knows they are learning, getting a hands-on experience and this is especially important for Gen-Z because guess what some of them might not go to school some of them might just be getting Google or AWS certification.”
As for the retainment and culture piece of the jigsaw, Kleyman shares a few key attributes that the Gen-Z worker is looking for in its company of choice. Attributes that the Google’s, Facebooks and Amazon’s of the world, have managed to deliver.
“A Gen-Z candidate will absolutely shy away from a company where they had a poor experience, starting even with HR and recruiters not understanding the value a candidate can bring can all impact whether this person actually wants to go work for you or whether or not to stay there. Gen-Zs they do their research. They go on Glassdoor, go on LinkedIn and ask some questions, they check ratings etc. and if you don’t have anything good out there as a brand, you might not be able to recruit good people.”
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Interestingly, Kleyman shares that unlike the Millennial job hoppers, Gen-Zs are much more interested in future proof careers and job stability – meaning that if you manage to deliver on their needs, they are likely to stay to long-haul.
“Retaining them is hard and getting them is hard and it requires a shift in mentality in our industry right now especially in the data centre space. But I definitely think we are getting there,” he says.
Stumbling upon the Unknown
Another pearl of wisdom taken from Bill’s fireside chat with Dean, was the realisation that very few enter into the infrastructure space intentionally, rather they stumble upon it. This truth points to a lack of awareness around the sector and could be indicative of a lack of transparency in this field.
Questioning Kleyman’s thoughts on this, he shared: “If there is a level of secrecy, I think it is to the determent of the industry,” he says. “You have to get louder and you have to get much more visible, being a secret isn’t great because it leads to misconceptions and people not understanding what companies do.”
Part of the problem around this conversation is that some organisations treat D&I has a box-ticking exercise with very little investment into making them reality. Over at Switch, However, Kleyman says that they have the right way of thinking and are putting it into its hiring practices.
“One of our company models is ‘truth in technology’ and I believe this absolutely scales into hiring practices,” he says. “If you are an executive and you are flustered because you can’t get young talent, you should talk to your hiring managers and your recruiters and you should ask them how they are doing this. What is their priority? What are they actually doing
to get young talent, because if they are asking the same damn question and they are doing the exact same thing that they would do for a 20 year for a 40 or 50-year-old you are done – that is not going to fly.”
One often talked about idea is that of mentors and sponsors, but that’s not what is key in Kleyman’s opinion, he says let’s go even simpler with ‘interaction with the groups that you are trying to diversify’”.
“Literally go to a high school and talk to somebody and ask a teacher at a local high school that maybe you went to or your kid goes to and say I work for a really large company and I just want to talk to these kids to make them understand technology and what is possible out there that is a step forward.”
As for the lessons he instils in the youth he engages with, among others, Kleyman says, ‘don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to fail’.
“You fail fast and you get up even faster, but I think anybody reading this and you are going into technology ask questions, just find good people and ask questions and just try.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom, in fact things are getting progressively better as more and more wake up to the realities of this rather inconvenient truth.
As we know, good diversity and inclusion programmes can lead to increases in your bottom line, so the reasons to do so are there, we need to push on and give the right people the platform to heard.
“It is not great and I think there is a lot of improvement we can do, I still walk into conferences that are heavily male-dominated, but I think we are getting there to some extent – it is going to take a generation but I do think we are on a positive trajectory.”
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