March 17, 2022
If you think that the U.S. technology industry skews young, you’d be right. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median age for the U.S. workforce as a whole to be 42.2, whereas the median age for the Computer Systems Design and Related Services industry is a sprightly 40.7. The attitudes that different generations have toward their careers and workplaces are affected not only by their stage of life but also the cultural changes that have occurred during their lifetimes. To build a strong talent pipeline and retain top performers, technology leaders must foster company cultures that engage workers of all ages, no matter where they are in their career journeys.
When I chart this median age data (as hc1 employees are known to do), it’s clear that the peak age range for tech workers is 25 to 44, a span that encompasses the Millenial generation, which is defined as those born between 1981 and 1996.
Millennials are only half the story when it comes to the tech workforce. The age span at hc1 shows nearly half of our employees are over 40, which includes Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980; and Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. About 5% of our workforce is from Generation Z, born after 1997. This number aligns with the nationwide number for our industry.
Most candidates for entry-level positions are likely to be Generation Z or young Millennials. What’s important to these job seekers? “It’s the purpose and the potential,” says Lori Smith, Senior Vice President of Talent at hc1. “They want to be able to grow their skills pretty quickly.” These candidates ask about on-demand learning, career development plans, access to leaders and mentors and stretch assignments. They want to go beyond what’s listed in the job description.
Executive assistant Tory Hungria and software engineer Zach Spitzer, leaders of hc1’s Young Professionals group (also known as the YoPos), echoed this idea when I asked them what was important to have at work in order to be successful. Tory spoke about wanting to connect to the company’s values, social responsibility and overall mission and vision. Zach valued having people throughout the company who were ready and willing to answer his questions and give context about why things are done a certain way. Tory agreed, saying, “It’s nice being in a culture where that’s okay, to have those questions and a questioning mindset, and, in fact, it’s celebrated.”
In addition to connecting to a broader purpose and learning opportunities, Generation Z wants to connect with each other. Zach and Tory surveyed their fellow YoPos about what they wanted the group to be, and the highest response by far was a social group. “When you go directly from college to a new job, or you hop into a new job, it can be difficult at times to be able to try and connect with your other coworkers and your peers, particularly if you’re working remote. Being able to find a way to be able to bridge that gap is what we are hoping to do,” he said.
Lori notes that if these needs aren’t being met, younger folks aren’t likely to stick around. Their drive to pursue their passions, expand their skills, make new connections, and achieve their own financial stability can lead them to develop other opportunities for themselves or find a completely different career path.
Tech folks tend not to have long employment tenures, and demand for their skills remains high. Now that remote work has become the norm for technology jobs across the country, midwest companies like hc1 are having to compete with the higher salaries offered by tech companies on the West Coast. To prevent top talent from moving on, leaders need to regularly evaluate what they offer their employees in terms of pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement to make sure they are in line with others in the industry.
A company of hc1’s size, with a fairly flat hierarchy, doesn’t offer a variety of management roles, but it does have the flexibility to empower managers to offer different avenues of access to employees who want to take their career to the next level. Employees may choose to deepen an existing skill set, take on different roles within their team or even move to a different team. For example, a senior developer might want to use the latest AWS offerings to solve a problem on a project, or a talent team member might take a course in career coaching and begin to offer that benefit to the entire company.
Experienced tech workers want to have autonomy in deciding where, when and how their work gets done. They are looking to have a healthy work-life balance with an employer that expects them to be accountable and awesome while they are at work but gives them the freedom to focus on their other responsibilities and enjoy their time away from work.
Given the amount of experience required, candidates for executive-level jobs are mainly Generation X or Baby Boomers. These candidates want to know what they’re getting into. They are likely to have questions about the company’s financial stability and 401(k) matches. They want to succeed in the role they have.
Once Boomers are brought on board, they are much more planted. They’re focused on using their expertise to build a legacy. They are not necessarily more loyal, but they are more likely to ride out difficult times, because this isn’t their first rodeo. However, executives have changed with the times as well, recognizing that the employer-employee relationship is now a partnership. Executives need to be proactive in getting feedback from employees about what they want from the workplace. Employees need to see that they are being listened to, or they will leave.
Age and generation are, of course, just some of the factors that contribute to a person’s approach toward their job, career and work as a whole. Life circumstances, past experiences, values and personality all play a part, too. The fact that there is such a diversity of approaches to tech careers suggests that leaders who can personalize employee recruiting, engagement and retention efforts will be more successful. Even though Lori actively works to personalize the employee experience as much as possible, she points out that employees of all ages have the same core feelings when it comes to work. “People still want to have purpose. They want to feel like they’re making a difference, they’re having an impact and being respected. It’s really that simple.”
Curious about what hc1 has to offer? Visit our Careers page to learn more about available positions and apply.