There has been quite a controversy revolving around the capabilities of Gen Z talents and Benjamin Wong from Kinobi has some clarifications to make.
The first batch of Gen Z individuals has recently entered the workforce, but with huge challenges in society along with the repercussions of COVID-19. The entire generation has often being shunned upon and received many labels of shame. Do Gen Z talents truly deserve such a bad rep? Or, is such a controversy more than what it seems? Are there overarching factors employers have overlooked that shaped Gen Z to be who they are today, and could society be missing out on the key to unleashing the full potential of an all-new elite generation of talents? Join us on another controversial discussion with Cleve Yap from Arcc Spaces and Benjamin Wong, CEO & Co-Founder of Kinobi, a digital career accelerator for Gen Z talents to learn more about how Gen Z talents are beyond simply memeworthy!
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Cleve: This evening, we have Benjamin from Kinobi so if you are wondering what Kinobi is, it is actually a digital career accelerator that happens to be a really concentrated on the Gen Z side of things. So, without spoiling too much, probably Ben, you might want to introduce more about yourself, the company and why you and your team are doing what you guys do today?
Benjamin: OK thanks so much Cleve. I think for a very simple introduction, I always start off with this story whereby people tend to ask me an interesting question about my email. My email is [email protected] so people would usually start asking questions like “Oh, is it related to Star Wars?”. So, these queries usually always come up. I think it really started from there in a way that I thought it was interesting as you know, you have Anakin Skywalker and then there is Darth Vader so, there is a duality of things. You can choose to go to the good side or the dark side. Everyone has a choice so, I think that was how we wanted to build our company.
We want to give people a choice to make, like how do you want to lead your life. Can you help these people discover their talents and achieve satisfaction in their jobs? So, I think that is really our impetus for starting this. As we evolve, we realized in order to solve this problem and that’s how we came with our tagline today, to be a Digital Career Accelerator for Asia’s Gen Z Community, it is to really to provide them with career tools that they can use at any time of the day. Even if it’s like during 1 am and they are on their bed, worrying about their future and they want answers, so they can start to use our app. More importantly, what we’re really supporting are the main clients of ours which are the universities that are letting their students use the app. We realize that the universities need help more than their students. There are like only 2 lecturers supporting 1000 students and that is a lot of work. They need support to handle the amount of data required for the lectures and that is how we position ourselves with some case studies talking about what students, as well as universities, use us for and why.
Cleve: Interesting. Sounds really ambitious and very dynamic in terms of the journey you and your team had. Certainly from myself, I’m quite different as compared to someone who is Gen Z. I’m sure you are as well right?
Benjamin: I’m not Gen Z but I try to dress like Gen Z now. Haha! No choice.
Cleve: Haha! Yeah, I can see that you are really casually dressed today. That’s very interesting to see. So, people like you and me, we got exposed to different learning materials around us directly and indirectly. I believe the atmosphere during our growing up years also determine how we perceive things in life right? So, probably you might want to explain more about the characteristics of the Gen Z workforce in more detail compared to the other generations?
Benjamin: This is honestly a very very good question because I think if you ask the Gen Zs, they don’t know themselves. Even their parents. So, it’s actually quite an interesting generation because we are all trying to find out what do all these people really want. How can we help harness their talents? Back in our days or even our parents’ days, it was a lot easier. When it is the age to start working, we just simply find a job and work. But nowadays, you realize that the Gen Zs have these aspirations which are not wrong in a way because they did benefit from the prosperity successfully built by the older generations. They have a comfortable place and that is when people start to engage in high-order thinking stuff such as fulfillment and satisfaction. I mean, I believe when you reveal thinking about such stuff when you were younger to your parents, your parents will ask you to just do the work and question why are you thinking about all these right? But today, it’s different. I actually see it as a step forward in society. Even though you can call them names like the “strawberry generation”, etc but they are the ones trying really hard to find out why and where they fit in.
So, we want to be the platform to help them understand themselves. They can tell us that they are good at something, or they have the right skills or even their aspirations about who they want to be. Be it someone who works in the tech industry, a software engineer, a designer etc. In Kinobi, we help them find out if they want to be what they aspire with a lack of the necessary skillsets, we can let them know how they can improve or how they have been mismatched. From there, we point them to courses, coaching sessions, etc to help prepare them for their aspirations.
Another thing that I’d like to highlight about the Gen Z generation is that they learn very differently, especially when COVID-19 happened. You know, we wouldn’t even wish this on our worst enemies because we are all in this together. At the same time, I wouldn’t wish for my worst enemies to go back to school during the pandemic. If you find out from the users or our students, you will realize that they tend to learn from “Zoom Universities”. They don’t have the physical interaction and learning is actually really tough on Zoom calls. Personally, I would totally zone out if I’m a student.
So, these are the things that Gen Zs are facing today. There is great heart in them to really find interest in learning. But, there is very little engagement in finding out what is their purpose and we want to provide this platform that allows them to do that. That is also why there are a lot of them that went to TikTok to find purpose because of the fact that they are all cooped up at home. It is still relatively ok in Singapore compared to the other markets we serve such as Indonesia, The Philippines and Thailand. People there already lack avenues for them to do whatever they need to do and that is the type of environment they are in. So, by understanding all these helps to really shape a perspective that Gen Zs really need help. They are a group of people with a lot of potential but they need platforms where they can grow and develop themselves. That’s what we really want to be for them.
Cleve: I see. So, from what your team and yourself are doing, you’re also trying to make learning curriculums more interesting right?
Benjamin: Yeah, exactly.
Cleve: Yeah, I can also see why they venture into TikTok and learn stuff from there instead because I also believe that the Gen Z community has a really short attention span as well?
Benjamin: Yes, really short.
Cleve: since you and your team have been rather specialized in the Gen Z career development field, could you share with us what are the key benefits of hiring Gen Z talents, and are there any case studies that you can share with us when any Gen Z talent have made a huge contribution to a company, according to your experience in Kinobi?
Benjamin: There is this quote by a philosopher but I can’t remember his name whereby he mentioned something about every generation will believe itself to be smarter than the generation before it and wiser than the generation after it. This is always the case. We always think that we are smarter than our parents and we always think that we are wiser than our kids. You know, it’s the same for them. They tend to think that they are smarter than us. It may not be entirely true but it may be true in some sense. I think what has changed is that some of the Gen Z kids are more flexible and they grew up in an environment that develops a shorter attention span. I believe that necessitates themselves to go to the point and that is one trait that I admire about the Gen Z talents.
Cleve: They are very straightforward.
Benjamin: They are very straightforward and they are able to just point out to say that certain things must be done and let’s just go ahead to the point, which is good for some companies especially when you are in a startup or a fast-growing company where it is very reliant on growth and results. So, I think this is where Gen Z talents really strive to succeed. Gen Zs are great for startups also because they are mainly looking for people who can “tahan” (endure in Malay) stress. It is not about age but because Gen Z talents are young at this point in time and they do survive well with more energy to spare.
We mainly place these talents into top tech firms and one thing that we do notice about them is that they really do perform. They perform the job, they are able to get things done with high mental flexibility and they are able to showcase why certain things has to be done in certain ways with their own logic and reasons. They are able to articulate that which is pretty cool.
If anyone wants to hire a Gen Z talent, I would say that the best Gen Z talent has to be the one that has experience running communities such as those in our secondary school CCAs (co-curricular activities). The reason is that CCAs are effectively like a company. You might not have profit and loss to worry about but you do work around a budget, you understand how to allocate resources, how to hire the right people, understand what is needed to get something running, done or achieved from a certain set of goals. So, those Gen Z talents that have led these organizations are more than likely to succeed than fail because they simply understand what it takes. Even though they did not run a full-fledged company with profit and loss to worry about, they understand what it takes to run it, at least on their own level. They have the experience and even though they are young, we should not belittle certain things they have done. This is something very interesting that many companies did not realize about these Gen Z talents.
Cleve: Right.. You raised out a lot of good points and the benefits of hiring a Gen Z talent. I can really sense it out and there was one part that you talked about being straightforward, I have a question leading to that but I will keep that for later.
So, I understand that Generation Z is also currently the youngest batch of talents out there right now and so far we have already heard from you about how they behave and work. Hopefully, our audiences out there can gain some valuable insights and facts about the Gen Z talent pool. But, because Gen Z today is still such a misunderstood batch and people still seem to overlook them without giving them much chance to prove themselves. So, despite knowing what Gen Z can do for us, what else can employers do today to bring the best out of them besides giving them a chance to understand them.
Benjamin: I think that’s a really good question and I think it’s already happening. For example, in marketing divisions, they have this new position called the growth hacker. The growth hacker is someone who sits between the product, the tech team in some ways, the marketing team, and the senior management to decipher what are the KPIs to grow the company and what does it take for each of them to get there. So, the growth hacker will measure that, define what are the paths and design the framework to achieve the goal.
That person for the job in this case is a young person. The reason being a lot of the marketing channels are increasingly like TikTok. TikTok is something that many people don’t understand. If you ask a person managing Instagram, most of the time he/she will not understand TikTok.
Cleve: Hold on. Are you a TikTok person?
Benjamin: I’m not a TikTok person. But, i recently had to do a few TikTok videos because i realise when I was supervising the marketing team, I asked them: “Why is our Tiktok channel not booming. I thought your KPI is supposed to be growing the TikTok channel so how come you did not hit your KPI?” Then they replied: “Boss, you think it’s so easy? Why not you try to do it yourself?” So i told them: “OK, let me try to do one myself.”
I thought it was interesting because I did ask myself: “Is it because I am older so that I cannot do TikTok?” and then I found out the answer is no. Actually, even if you are older you can still do TikTok. I used the same methods to decipher how to grow my Instagram and applied it to my Tiktok channel. It’s almost the same. You got to figure out who the influencers are, figure out their styles, research on how the algorithm works and then I managed to do it. Yesterday, my video garnered 16k views and additional 800 new followers so I thought that it was not bad and gave myself a pat on the back. I told my interns that their boomer boss can also do Tiktok videos. Hahaha!
Benjamin: So yeah, I think these are one of the reasons why I believe that the Gen Z talents are able to perform such tasks and teach us. These are the traits and how you can actually unleash the potential of a Gen Z talent. If you ask someone like me or someone older than me to do TikTok videos and to do it effectively, chances are most of them will feel uncomfortable about it. For me, I am the CEO and I don’t have a choice but to learn TikTok. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what I am doing. But, most people will not do the reverse. They will just say: “Oh I shall just stick to Instagram. Why should I switch to TikTok.” So I think that is one way people can hire a Gen Z talent.
Another way is that you can give Gen Z talents to do projects that have a high risk for failure but there is no answer or reason behind it. Those tasks are the best tasks for Gen Zs because they have little to no experience. They won’t have that many presuppositions to think that the project is going to fail.
Cleve: So, you mean they like to do such projects?
Benjamin: It depends. But, the thing is it is easier to ask them to do it because firstly they are young and inexperienced. Even if they come in as a management associate, they have to perform as they are just starting out of their careers right? So, the inertia for them to succeed I would say is much lower versus someone else who is already at his/her mid-career stage, if you were to ask him/her to start something totally new, it might at times mean career suicide for them and leave them pondering thoughts like “what if it fails?”.
I would really encourage companies to do this because it really aligns with the background of a fresh Gen Z talent. He/she has the incentive to do it versus other talents from older generations. The second factor is that they wont’t likely have presuppositions. They won’t have a preconceived notion on that they are being assigned a task that is bound to fail. The third factor is that they need the experience so it’s easier to convince them to try such tasks out.
Recently, there has also been talks revolving around innovation. Sometimes, as companies try to innovate, it might eventually just become a word. Whether they really do it or not, it’s another question. If you ask someone who is much older to innovate, it’s tough right? So, why not just leave it to the Gen Z talent to do it. The Gen Z talent might even excel and lead the division for you and bring back the profits. So, I think at the end of the day, that’s how I would encourage companies to utilize them.
Cleve: Right. Is it because of the way they are brought up, they are less afraid of failure as a generation?
Benjamin: I think that is not a totally true statement. If you look at Generation X, this generation had it slightly easier because college fees were lower, the standard of living and prices were lower. During the time of my parents, when they graduate, they are ready to buy a car but if you are talking about the present, it is most likely only going to be a dream.
So what about the Gen Zs, I think it is even harder for them. In some ways, they are actually quite afraid of failure. They are most comfortable dealing with things that they have never tried before so again, that is why it makes them the most suitable to do the type of tasks I was mentioning earlier on.
Cleve: I see. I understand now. Those are really interesting points for the question but are there still companies trying to make Gen Z talents to keep up with their own company policies instead? This is the question that I want to follow up on what you brought up earlier. So, one of the reasons why companies might be doing this could be because they might be worried that they might be too impatient for change in the company or anything like that so should companies accommodate their working principles to how Gen Z works? Or, should there be a limit to it? How does it work today and what’s the trend going to be like moving forward.
Benjamin: Understand. That’s a very important question that you have raised. It actually boils down to this… It is harder to manage a junior staff than before. My belief is that we are all the same no matter what generation we are. That’s my stand but I don’t know about most people. I mean, we are just as childish as who we really should be deep down. It’s just probably because people are working in more corporate environments, they have to put up a more mature demeanor and they cannot reveal that part of themselves.
Today, these junior staffs and Gen Z talents cry for mental health. I would say it is not totally their fault but at the same time, it is also something they have to solve it. I don’t take the point of view that we need to “cuddle” them all the way. I take the point of view that we need to do both. So, what do i mean by that?
The first thing that we need to do is to “cuddle” them because we need to acknowledge that mental health is a huge thing today and they grew up in very different times. Most of them started their jobs right during the pandemic. None of us did that. We started our jobs with people throwing parties for us with a welcome gift. We can see and feel the presence. But, the Gen Z talents never had that. All they had was some emails with one staff to welcome them online and when they got inducted into the teams, everyone tend to give the impression that they are young and inexperienced.
It’s really hard for them to fit inside sometimes. So, I think these are the things that we have to acknowledge that it is tough for them and during the pandemic, they are entering a place where they are totally new. It’s like you are a parent with a primary 1 kid, you bring him/her to school and want to let your kid assimilate to the environment and there is a teacher that is trying to handhold your kid, etc. It’s the same thing but this time, you are bringing your kid to school but there is no one to support him/her there. So, it is tough. There is only so much you can do on Zoom or with any other remote means. That’s one thing that we have to acknowledge that it is tough for Gen Zs.
But at the same time, I must say that as a young person, he/she should not “nua” (laze in hokkien). They cannot be saying that mental health is everything or saying something like: “Someone gave me work to do but i cannot do it because I don’t work after 6pm.” That’s not the attitude that some of them should have. They would tell you about their mental boundaries and they cannot do overtime.
My belief is that when you are young, you need to work hard. You cannot say that you only work 9-6pm. If you just work from 9-6pm, chances are you will not get anywhere in life.
Cleve: You need to hustle kids! Hahaha!
Benjamin: Yes, you need to hustle. So, I think that at the same time although we need to acknowledge the importance of mental health but we cannot let this whole talk around it be this barrier for them to not hustle, which is important for a young person. This is how I would approach Gen Z talents.
Cleve: Talking about hustling aside, all of us can only hustle to a certain point and we need to keep watch of our mental health as well.
So, all of those points you brought up earlier brings us to this very interesting question. This next question is less of an employment question but more of a general question on a global scale. So, personally what I feel is that the world is getting more awareness on social issues, technology shifts, technology shifts as well as climate change and all these factors resonate with the soul of the Gen Z community in general. So, like what you mentioned they grew up in very tough times so these are what is gonna revolve about right now.
At the same time, the governments of the world they’re still constantly looking to work towards changing all of those that I mentioned just now but to me, it seems like the progress has been a little underwhelming especially when it comes to social issues and climate change. It’s really very slow progress and there’s still so much chaos around the world revolving around things like racism, global warming, sexism, and so much more.
So, do you think if the world would start opening up to work with Gen Zs at an earlier stage, will the world become a better place?
Benjamin: Wow.. I don’t know the answer. I’ll be honest with you. It’s a tough question to answer although I know this and that’s a fact.
If you look at Southeast Asian history or even history around the world, many revolutions are started by students. It explains why there are certain laws in Southeast Asia. No matter it is established by our founding fathers in Singapore or Indonesia or Vietnam. I’m not naming any names but you know who they are.
So, you know they were all students when they started this. they were the “Gen Zs” of their generation when they did all of those right? In general, they do have a lot of power just by the virtue of the fact that it is because of their age. I don’t think it is a generation thing. It’s the fact they were at that age where they don’t have the jadedness of being too old but yet possess the youthfulness and desire to make a change. I think it is the virtue of that and not about a generation.
So, I think it is maybe correct that they actually do spur change in the social issues we talked about and they may be even more powerful than the generations before. If you take our founding fathers for example, they did it without Tiktok. They did it without proper telecommunications and just by gathering people together.
Cleve: Haha! It was all just the speakers and the loudhailers.
Benjamin: Yeah, imagine if they have TikTok right now. I mean the change and the power they have must be even greater.
Cleve: That’s a good point there.
Benjamin: I’m not too sure what is going to happen but we are starting to see some of these things across the world. I think more importantly, you start to see that things impact each other even more. Take the Black Lives Matter movement for example. Although it’s something which we don’t face in Singapore and not even a topic here, it raises up issues between the 4 races here in Singapore. No matter you are from the “majority” or “minority” racial group, you can’t have things to say about each other just because of BLM even though we have nothing to do with BLM.
So I think we will start to see more of such things happening in this generation.
Cleve: Yeah, we are already seeing very young figures who are going to be activists or influencers at such a young age. I think it’s all the power from all these advanced telecommunications and technology that made me wonder how all these things will go moving forward.
Benjamin: I think your guess is as good as mine. We kind of know that something is going to happen.
Cleve: It’s kind of exciting though. Haha!
Benjamin: Yeah, I agree.
Cleve: So, last question! If a company happens to be interested in getting Gen Z talents into their team, are there any signature tips from you or any different approaches on how a company should recruit them?
Benjamin: I think first it’s if you would like to drop a line you can just give a call to me or ping me on Linkedin. Probably we can just chat about it and share some of my thoughts.
I would say that one way to do it is to go back to the basics. What i mean by the basics? It simply means to show that you care for your staff. I think that’s all they need. They just want to know that you care. If they know that you care they would want to join you and your company. If you can show that through your Linkedin, employee branding and so on, I think that’s very powerful.
Though I focus on this, there are other ways to do it. For example, when you see those big tech firms, they have a lot of perks. Pantries are fully stocked with ice cream, etc, and if you ask me that is what Gen Zs actually like in some sense because they like to film TikToks around these.
So, that is one other way to attract talents and in my opinion that should not be the only way to do it. The best way to do it is really like what i mentioned earlier, to show them you care. From that way, you will get Gen Z talents that will not only tell you that they like your perks. You want Gen Z talents to tell you that they want to work hard for you and hustle for you. It’s very different.
I think that’s how I would find my talents. To really show them that I care. To show them that this is a good place to work in, to show them that I care about their development and this is somewhere that you can grow to be more than what you are. So, that’s how I would do it.
Cleve: So, long story short. Companies have to start injecting more meaning into their work environments right?
Benjamin: Yes, they really look into meaning.
Cleve: So, there you have it. This is why and how the Gen Z community and workforce is beyond memeworthy. Hopefully you guys have learned something and probably for me if I were to become a boss I’ll probably grow up to embrace them and expose as much talent as possible for them to make the world a better place. I hope that you enjoy today’s episode and hopefully we can see you during the next episode as well so stay safe, stay positive.
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