Gen Z has been uniquely affected by the uncertainty of remote learning and job-searching during the pandemic. However, there have been silver linings, such as being able to connect with a more diverse group of professionals globally, according to Paisley Haddad, a May 2021 graduate of Marist College and host of the Queen of Comm Podcast.
Haddad shared her experience breaking into the industry in a panel at PRWeek’s virtual PRDecoded conference (go here to register) on Tuesday. She was joined by the assistant dean of career development at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, Rachel Frint, and VP and global head of corporate social responsibility at IBM Justina Nixon-Saintil.
Each discussed how the pandemic negatively and positively affected the newest members of the workforce.
Pros and cons of remote
“[Remote learning] was definitely a difficult transition, especially with the nature of our studies as communications students. A lot of it is based on connection and getting together,” Haddad said. “[But] the adaptability that our generation had to go through this past year is something [we] will continue to carry with us in our professional lives.”
When COVID-19 hit, campus career-development teams also had to pivot to help students build their professional networks, something Frint said was no easy feat.
“One of our key priority areas was to keep our students connected to the people and experimental opportunities they were accustomed to pre-pandemic so we shifted those experiences virtual and even designed new ones for students,” she said.
For instance, NYU’s PR league put together a virtual hackathon in March that tackled challenges presented by Ogilvy’s PR clients to be judged by industry leaders.
While challenging, virtual networking had its benefits.
“We’ve definitely seen access barriers be removed as our students went virtual,” Frint said, noting that the school was able to connect students with mentors, C-suite and early talent professionals with more ease than before through Zoom.
Haddad launched her own podcast entitled The Queen of Comm, an interview-style show on which she speaks with high-level PR professionals, college students and recent grads to learn from thought leaders about the world of communications. She also served as firm director of North Road Communications, a student-run marketing and communications firm serving a client roster of 11 Hudson Valley, New York, nonprofit organizations.
How to provide opportunities for young talent
While remote networking is one way to support young professionals, Nixon-Saintil said companies can also provide programs to help Gen Z build their skills, something she said is needed after stunted internship opportunities.
At IBM, skills development programs SkillsBuild and P-Tech provide online courses for young talent to build their knowledge in technology as well as soft skills like mock interviews.
“For young people to be really successful in the workplace, they need the soft skills: creativity, collaboration, how to network, interviews,” she said.
Frint echoed the statement, noting that “[Gen Zers are] looking for early leadership and mentorship experiences.”
“They want frequent rotational assignments that keep their roles and skills new and evolving,” Frint said. “They're very aware of the problems that exist in the world and we often hear from students that they want to be part of the solution.”
She also noted that building a workplace culture that is inclusive and helps Gen Z explore their identity is equally important, as Gen Z “sees no separation between their professional and personal identity.”
“They want to bring their authentic selves to work,” she explained.
So what does Gen Z ultimately want from an employer?
For Haddad, flexibility was an important factor in her employment decision when she chose to become account coordinator at Uproar PR.
“I was really looking for a company that was going to recognize that the norm that was before the pandemic is not going to be the norm once all this is over,” she said. “I think companies need to realize that they need to be more active in supporting their employees and making sure that they have the best work environment.”