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Generation Z, Internal Audit, and Places to Rent in Tuscany

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The college graduates entering the workforce now are the first of a new generation of young people known as Generation Z, defined as those born between 1996 and 2010. Gen Z is expected to make up one-fifth of the labor force by 2021. I suggest we welcome this fresh talent with open arms, as not only are they our future, but they will be critical to positioning internal audit where it needs to be over the next decade.

In 1996, DVDs were launched in Japan, the number of internet host computers jumped in one year from 1 million to 10 million, and Microsoft launched Windows 4.0. Clearly, Gen Z was born into a digital world — these new college graduates likely don't remember a time without iPhones, touch screens, and virtual meetings.

So as we talk about things such as digital transformation and using automated software, sophisticated algorithms, and artificial intelligence to do our work, we have to remember it all means something totally different to members of Gen Z than to those of us who have been working for the past 20 years. A skills assessment of the internal audit team should show the need for this digital-is-second-nature thinking to truly transform internal audit practices.

Gen Z graduates are children of a recession and are seen, as a result, as people who focus strongly on stability, security, and a solid paycheck, unlike their elders, the millennials. They have lived through the #MeToo awakening, and as a result expect management to be honest and transparent. As digital natives, their brains are wired to think paper is wasteful, to be amused (or frustrated) if devices aren't connected, to routinely pull information from all over the world, and to understand the possibilities zettabytes of data provide.

I recently watched a Seinfeld episode where Jerry is offended that "The Maestro" declares there are no houses anywhere in Tuscany to rent. "If only there was some way to find out," Jerry says, determined to prove The Maestro wrong.

It's mind boggling to think back to 1995 when this episode was shot and how nearly impossible it was to easily get that type of information, to today when you can find places to rent in Tuscany in seconds on your personal phone. The world has changed drastically in the span of Gen Z and we must be cognizant of our differing baselines to take full advantage of this new crop of talent.

These incoming college graduates are known to be independent and competitive. And yet, a recent study using the UCLA Loneliness Scale to measure how often a person feels disconnected from others ranked Gen Z with high levels of loneliness. Participants answered 20 questions (such as "How often do you feel left out?" and "How often do you feel part of a group of friends?") using a four-point scale from "never" to "always." Gen Z was the loneliest generation with an average score of 48.3, according to Time magazine, as anything over 43 is considered lonely.

These disconnected feelings could be a result of their digital upbringing, where little goes unshared in social circles making it easy to know when you are left out. I see this as an opportunity for internal audit leaders to embrace these fledgling internal auditors and nurture their careers.

Recruiting and retaining top talent is key to enabling internal audit to deliver on its mission and provide independent, objective, assurance and advisory services to boards, audit committees, senior management, and regulators. This high-level relationship between internal audit and the organization hinges on the right collection of people performing those duties.

Recruiting a Gen Z thinker will bring value, as will retaining them. Listen to these young auditors to create professional development programs around what they want to develop, not just what you think they need. Provide education and training, experiences beyond their routines, and exposure through interaction with senior management or external conferences. Think about rewards as simple as time out of the office for coffee. Assign them to stretch projects, such as looking for innovative ways to approach audits of data privacy, blockchain, and artificial intelligence. Help them to gain the experience they need to be successful internal auditors and also listen to the fresh ideas and perspectives they bring to the team.

That's my point of view. I'd be happy to hear yours.

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