Believe it or not, the oldest Millennials will be turning 42 or 43 this year. As more of the Baby Boomers retire – and Gen X inches toward AARP membership – more and more of those in Gen Z will be entering the workforce, including in the ag industry.

There are a lot of sources out there trying to predict what this generation will be like in the workforce, but at the most recent Cultivate conference, the organizers decided to go directly to the source. A panel working under the title “Attracting the Next Generation of Employees” included:

  • Armando Villa-Ignacio, a grad student in the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department at Colorado State
  • Brandan Shur, a master’s students in horticultural science at North Carolina State University
  • Kaitlin Swiantek, a horticultural master’s student at the University of Georgia
  • Taylor DeLand, currently at the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute
  • Regan Draeger, a master’s student in agricultural leadership, education and communications at the University of Tennessee
  • Hamilton Crockett, a master’s student in plant pathology at Louisiana State University

As members of the group looking to join the horticulture industry in the next year or so, they took turns answering questions, such as “What factors draw you to a potential employer?”

The biggest factor seems to be “company culture,” which is defined by Forbes as “the shared norms, values, attitudes and practices that form the collective identity of your company. At its best, it’s the invisible glue that binds your team and sets the stage for the narratives your employees play out daily, contributing to your overall organizational story.”

“Let applicants talk to current employees and have them describe the culture to get an understanding of it,” Villa-Ignacio suggested. Swiantek added that “respect all the way down” is critical too.

As far as what potential employees are actually looking for, jobs should be posted online, using Indeed, LinkedIn and social media (especially Instagram for the younger half of the generation), Villa-Ignacio said. “The algorithm will help spread it beyond your current followers. It will also be shared among friends.”

Also recommended was Seed Your Future, an organization with a mission “to promote horticulture and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.”

“It’s important to meet representatives from a company. Go out and visit universities,” Shur told employers. Crockett also suggested using your local Extension office in the search.

It’s a necessity to have pay transparency in job postings. Several members of the panel said they wouldn’t apply for a job if the salary isn’t listed.

Giving generational insight were (L – R) Regan Draeger, Armando Villa-Ignacio, Taylor DeLand, Kaitlin Swiantek, Brandan Shur and Hamilton Crockett. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

Some in Gen Z are also looking for benefits “beyond the traditional,” Crockett said. And “incentives don’t have to be financial – just recognize health and human needs,” Swiantek added.

Another must is what they consider a good work/life balance. “But we are in horticulture,” Shur said. “Experience shows this isn’t a normal nine-to-five – but we want to be here.”

Having worked in the industry before coming back to school, Villa-Ignacio added, “We understand the seasonality of this industry, so long hours are accepted, but time off is needed … Make mental health a priority. Maybe even make a professional available to your staff.”

Opportunity for advancement should be highlighted by employers. Draeger said her peers are constantly looking for companies to invest in them – to help them develop as people, not just employees.

Once they feel they’ve found the perfect fit, there are a few other things Gen Z would like to see in the workplace. “Automation helps,” DeLand joked. But it doesn’t have to be anything overwhelming.

“You can have sensors linked to your phone – it doesn’t need to be big infrastructure,” Shur added. “We need to be open to integrating technology to make things easier.”

And lastly, they want that company culture to encompass a positive work environment. “We like to be asked what we want from a job or what we can add to the team,” Crockett explained.

Draeger noted that constructive criticism is a good thing – “but also tell us our strengths. We need to hear it.”

“Continuous feedback is also appreciated,” Villa-Ignacio said. “Learning from mistakes is better than simply being told what is wrong. It’s being part of a conversation, not just being told.”

The final note came from Shur: “Be understanding.” Different generations had different upbringings and learned different skills. Working to see things eye-to-eye will go a long way with the next generation of employees.

by Courtney Llewellyn