How to Attract Gen Z to ‘Unglamorous’ Industries

Overcoming the Challenge of Hiring the TikTok Generation When Flexible or Remote Work Isn't an Option

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Attracting the TikTok generation to traditionally unglamorous industries is a formidable task. Gone are the days when job security and a steady paycheque were the primary motivators for people entering the workforce. The world has dramatically changed, and today’s youth are swimming in an ocean of new, exhilarating job opportunities. How can industries like manufacturing, heavy industries, and construction compete with YouTube stars making tens of millions of dollars, or influencers who seem to live a perpetual holiday?

I remember growing up and hearing my uncle counting down the months until his retirement, even when he was only in his early forties. The goal was straightforward: work diligently and retire at 65. For his generation—Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964—this mindset was common. They valued stability and were mainly focused on a paycheque and retirement. Contrast this with Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, and Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2012, and it’s like looking at a different universe.

The Changing Face of the Workforce

Australia, like many other Western nations, is undergoing a demographic shift — Baby Boomers are exiting the labour force, and by 2030, Gen Z will make up about a third of the Australian workforce. According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, the top priority for Gen Z, apart from salary, is flexible working arrangements. So, the question arises: How can you attract Gen Z to industries where remote work isn’t an option?

Get the Basics Right: Pay, Progression, Flexible-ish

First and foremost, ensure you’re offering a competitive salary. Deloitte’s survey indicated that the rising cost of living is a significant stressor for Gen Z. Fears of not being able to retire comfortably exacerbate this stress. Companies could consider offering perks like free lunches or transportation allowances to offset these anxieties.

Career progression is the next crucial aspect. Gen Z are less likely to stick around if they don’t see opportunities for advancement. Thus, painting a vision for how they could move up in your organisation is essential.

Lastly, while you may not offer full-time remote work, flexibility still matters. This could mean different start and end times, part-time roles, or compressed workweeks.

Advancing Beyond the Basics

1. Help Gen Z Understand the History, Impact, and Purpose of Your Company

Contrary to popular belief, Gen Z aren’t solely captivated by what’s new or digital. They share with previous generations an appreciation for history, foundations, and the journey that businesses undertake. Examples like the rich production stories behind Australian staples RM Williams and Bundaberg Ginger Beer resonate even with this newest generation. Young people are more likely to engage with your organisation if they understand its history and impact.

In 2019, we had the opportunity to do a brand refresh for Advanced Truss Systems, a leading Queensland manufacturer of timber trusses, floor systems, and wall frames. While their office staff often boasted tenures of years or even decades, and even family members from multi-generations employed, the factory floor painted a different picture. The higher turnover rate among low-skilled labour presented a real challenge.

Our broader brand refresh strategy for Advanced Truss Systems was to foster a meaningful connection between factory workers and the end product. We recognised that the understanding and appreciation of their role in the broader narrative could lead to greater job satisfaction and retention.

To do this, we first introduced the positioning statement, “Proudly Supporting Builders and The Great Australian Dream, Since 1988”, to emphasise the dignity and legacy of the work they perform—a contribution often physically hidden in the final product but crucial nonetheless.

Secondly, we wanted to highlight the impact factory workers have on the communities they’re helping to build. Traditional factory metrics are usually confined to safety statistics such as “X number of days without an incident.” So we decided to push the envelope by measuring the social impact of Advanced Truss Systems’ work. We tracked and showcased not just the number of homes built using their products, but also added a layer of depth by indicating the number of stories created, as two-story homes would require floor systems.


2. Offset the Environmental and Social Impacts

Companies like Merlo Coffee in Brisbane are setting a great example in the realm of environmental responsibility. Their forward-thinking initiatives include installing solar panels at both their head office in Eagle Farm and their roastery in Bowen Hills, as well as offering discounts to customers who use reusable cups.

When we were engaged for some brand positioning work with Merlo’s leadership team last year, it became evident that these environmental efforts were not merely “nice-to-haves” for their younger employees. Instead, they were considered essential steps for the long-term sustainability and future-proofing of the business.

3. Empower Them to Contribute

According to Deloitte Global’s 2022 survey, allowing Gen Z to drive change within the organisation fosters a sense of belonging and loyalty. Creating avenues for their input, such as through organisation-wide surveys, can be immensely beneficial. I’ve written about how to improve workplace culture through employee surveys in this previous article.

The Role of Branding

Having a brand that resonates with Gen Z can certainly be an asset. However, superficial changes won’t suffice; the substance needs to back up the style. This generation has a keen eye for authenticity, so make sure your brand aligns with their values.

Final Thoughts

Attracting Gen Z to less glamorous industries requires more than just a paycheque; it demands a comprehensive, value-driven approach. By emphasising your company’s purpose, history, and commitment to sustainability and the wider community, you can engage this passionate, inspired generation. Moreover, giving them a platform to effect change will not only benefit your organisation in the short term but will also help you build a workforce that is invested in your company’s future success.

Need help transforming your workplace to better attract Gen Z talent?

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