Posted on Monday 20 May 2019 by Ulster Business

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Generation Z often receives pointed criticism in business circles and in the media, particularly from employers who are struggling to either get the best out of them or having a tough time hiring new talent, writes John Moore, managing director, Hays Northern Ireland.

Alongside all the positive reports we get about Northern Ireland’s amazing talent pool, you’ve probably heard an equal amount of criticism of young people in this generation – typically born between the mid-1990s and early-2000s.

Common barbs aimed at Generation Z are that they have a huge sense of entitlement, don’t have a strong work ethic, can’t take criticism, and are too immature for the workplace. I’ve heard employers bemoan the fact that this generation can’t communicate face-to-face or they place more emphasis on their passions outside of work than their own career development.

While some of this is no doubt grounded in their experience, employers perhaps need to adjust how they engage with the new generation beyond just offering them quirky perks and trendy working environments.

Hays recently sponsored The Good (A) Idea, the biggest ever AI hackathon in NI organised by AINI (Artificial Intelligence Northern Ireland) and Hackily – a two-day event hosted by QUB School of Computing and Ulster University Magee campus for around 180 hackers in Belfast and 40 in Derry.

The hackathon provided a welcoming and collaborative environment for hackers to build out brilliant, innovative, and impactful ideas using AI under a theme of ‘AI for good’, where hackers were challenged to utilise open data sources to create an innovative solution to a real-world problem.

It was an opportunity for students – who made up 75% of the attendees – and experienced professionals to meet fellow hackers, learn new technologies, and work alongside seasoned mentors.

Far from being underwhelmed by Generation Z, we were inspired by the talent pools from different backgrounds such as computer science, physics and maths, coming together to collaborate with each other, learn about bleeding edge technologies and also to put their skills to use in creating something that was a benefit to society. For example, one of the teams invented an algorithm for a computer to read British sign language using a webcam.

These were ambitious, driven, competitive young people who worked brilliantly in their teams and certainly didn’t struggle to communicate, even if they arrived alone and joined a team. A team from Glasgow made the journey across to take part and the hackathon ran right through Saturday night – so we couldn’t fault their work ethic.

There were prizes, mentorship and funding available to the winners of the hackathon, as well as recruitment advice and workshops provided to students and professionals by Hays’ own experts across software development, data engineering and cyber security.

But the main attraction was undoubtedly in the opportunity to co-create new ideas about how to apply technology to the world they will run in future. That is hugely positive and our challenge as employers must be to make sure the students who will be the candidates of the future in NI’s thriving tech community are encouraged to put that passion into their careers.

The undergraduate community is an under-served community of future leaders in terms of recruitment and our desire is to equip undergraduates with the right understanding of what employers in the tech sector want and how they can build their personal brand for the future.

Employers need to get past the myths about Generation Z and focus on helping younger employees find meaning in their work if they are to unlock their potential.

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