It’s not uncommon to see “early career” employee resource groups (ERGs) marketed heavily to interns or recent college graduates who are kickstarting their first career. However, employees who may be starting their second, third or even tenth new career often need and want just as much support. They’re trying to settle into a new role, understand their new responsibilities, and find ways to connect with colleagues, too.
That’s why Zebra invites all employees to join its Early Career Inclusion Network, also known as EDGE (short for “Empowering Dynamic Generational Employees”).
A large percentage of Zebra’s workforce is comprised of employees who have recently transitioned into new roles that, by definition, are new careers too. Some are former military service members who, after six, 10 or even 20+ years on active duty are now starting their next career with Zebra. Others are tenured Zebras who have taken advantage of our internal professional development opportunities and transitioned from sales into product management or marketing to human resources (HR) – something that would be beyond the scope of a single college degree program.
Our hope is that EDGE can empower all early career professionals in Zebra with the skills and network they need to take control of their career development. We want to help them connect with other Zebra colleagues no matter their life or prior work experience and help them find inspiration to carve their new career path and find their edge.
However, we know that it is going to take some work to #BreakTheBias around the “early career” persona most elevated in today’s society – the one that mistakenly refers to “early career employees” and “young professionals” synonymously. So, I asked three leaders of Zebra’s EDGE Inclusion Network to explain what the ERG is doing to help ensure all employees have the means to thrive in their chosen careers. Below is an excerpt from my conversation with:
Deanna: Many companies gear early career ERGs toward young professionals. So, why are you and the other EDGE leaders making such a concerted effort to be more inclusive?
Tony: Every time you start a new job, or even when you get promoted, you are given new responsibilities. It takes time to learn new skills and find a work-life balance. You’re essentially starting fresh over and over throughout your lifetime. So, we didn’t want employees to feel excluded from what we consider to be “early career” support because they’ve been out of school for 20 years. We want to ensure employees from all generations know that there are people who can relate to what they’re experiencing in that transition period and offer support as peers or mentors.
Gintare: Over the last year, we have also realized that the support needed by early career employees in North America may be different from those in EMEA or APAC – and that some tenured employees may just want to leverage the professional development resources designed for early career professionals. So, we welcome anyone who wants to redefine their professional path or get back to basics, and we’re also encouraging Zebras to join the EDGE Inclusion Network as allies, mentors, and coaches.
Deanna: Are you seeing more people identify as early career professionals as you educate employees about what “early career” really means?
Vishv: Absolutely. APAC has one of the most diverse pools of early career professionals. Great strides have been made in the region to make education and knowledge available to all through digital means. New avenues are also opening in data sciences, and automation is gaining traction. So, we are seeing an accelerated influx of professionals who have upgraded their skills and now want to progress in such fields.
Gintare: In EMEA, university graduates are the most likely to identify as an “early career employee”. This is taking into consideration that Zebra offers graduate training programs in EMEA and, therefore, a lot of early career individuals enter the company through these programs. However, another big category is people who are joining Zebra with transferrable skills gained in other industry sectors. These people might be joining the IT industry for the first time or might be taking a professional role that is completely new to them, much like what Vishv described for APAC.
Tony: In the Americas, we see more people consider themselves “early career employees” if they are still students or have just graduated from a college or university and this is their first job. However, we also see many employees seek early career support when they get promoted into their first “people manager” role or branch into a new role or department that is essentially a new career start. The early career phase of one’s life is big for gaining the experience and knowledge of how to maneuver throughout the corporate world and taking advantage of this phase can help one propel themselves for the rest of their career.
Deanna: What kind of support do you see early career employees needing most from the inclusion network or Zebra in general?
Vishv: It has been a couple of months since the inception of EDGE in APAC. We are working on expanding our membership base and getting constant feedback from the employees as to what they would like to see and receive from EDGE. Also, we are in the planning stages of upcoming mentoring programs, which still remain one of the most effective support programs for early career talent to get a good grasp of their work responsibilities and get them well acquainted with the organization.
Tony: In the U.S. there is still a major emphasis placed on choosing a college and major early in one’s life. So, I personally feel that many early career employees want to feel comfortable expanding or shifting their career paths as they get exposed to another position and/or department in which they find a passion. At times, it may feel as if your college major determines where you career is going to go. But with the right ERG support in place and the right messaging by companies, employees will start to see that it’s okay to switch gears if and when you want. If you look at one of our company leaders, Jeff Schmitz, he transitioned from engineering into marketing, and more recently into HR. He now serves as our CMO and CHRO, which shows and provides encouragement that you can guide your career the way you want it to go. I believe Zebra does a good job of reinforcing this with the expansive Zebra Education Network (ZEN) pathway, which allows one to learn about different fields within the company and provides them skills and knowledge to make transitions into new professions.
Gintare: They are right, and the support that we see is needed from our inclusion network members is now captured as part of our global objectives. We want to create a safe space environment where early career employees can connect, share experiences, and network together and across the business. We also want to equip early career professionals – and their supervisors – with the needed skills to be successful. This means engaging with people managers and senior leadership in Zebra to showcase the unique perspectives of early career professionals and teach them how, in their leadership role, they can empower and champion early career talent.
Deanna: Knowing that early career employees are not necessarily recent college graduates, what type of on-the-job training or employer support might they need?
Tony: There are so many different technology and programs out there nowadays, having an internal system, like Zebra’s ZEN Pathway, is so important. It allows employees to learn all the technology that is out there, particularly the technology tools that best fit their role today and may potentially help them do their jobs in the future.
Gintare: I agree, it can be harmful to assume that either a Gen Z or Gen X employee is familiar with Microsoft Office just because they are considered Digital Natives and presumed experts at all things tech. Yet, Microsoft Suite isn’t consistently taught in school like it was 15 or 20 years ago, so people may not be exposed to it until they enter the workforce. And even millennials and Gen X employees who have been in the workplace for a while may not have had to use certain tools or acquire/sharpen certain skills in previous roles. So, never assume anything when it comes to job-related experience, knowledge, skills, or capabilities. And be prepared to help all employees acclimate to big life changes, such as living a more independent life or navigating both personal and professional experiences that they just haven’t been exposed to before.
Vishv: They are right. The notion of early career employees has seen a lot of evolution lately, especially since the start of the pandemic. We see a lot of variety when it comes to early career talent. As mentioned before, there can be professionals transitioning from non-tech careers, who want to learn and grow in the field of information technology. They might not be as well acquainted with the tech tools as their counterparts. So, we provide them with assistance through courses to get them ramped up. On the other hand, there can be graduates fresh out of college, starting their journey. They might be looking out for cool workspaces which are technology inclusive and offer a more collaborative environment. For them, platforms where they can share thoughts, get heard and progress tend to be of priority.
Deanna: Do you feel you’re now offering the right resources through the EDGE Inclusion Network?
Gintare: I think that we are on the right path to offer the right resources. We are offering events on topics that are relevant for early career individuals. For example, one of our active EDGE members just recently led an event on how to navigate career shifts as an “Internal Candidate” at Zebra. In addition to this, the EMEA team is launching an EDGE Career Help page on our intranet where helpful content will be shared for early career individuals. This will include everything from “How to” and “Did you know?” videos to stories of other early career employees. We also launched a “Speed Networking” initiative last year to allow individuals from different departments, regions, etc. to connect with each other.
However, it is always important to continuously listen to the feedback, and tailor offered resources accordingly. We must take into consideration that what is helpful in one region might be less helpful in another. For example, while an event on how to navigate your internship is very relevant for the Americas, the impact of this event would be smaller in EMEA.
Vishv: I agree. Zebra EDGE serves as a medium where early career employees can connect and collaborate during events like coffee chats and networking meets. They get an insight into the rich industry experience their colleagues have to share and, at the same time, they get a forum to share their thoughts, aspirations and outlook, which brings in the much-needed fresh air – which every organization longs for today.
Tony: With the variety of perspectives we have on our leadership team, from early career individuals to people managers, I’m confident we are on the right path to provide the best resources for those entering the company or taking on a new role. Our meetings with our new EDGE Inclusion Network leadership team have been so inspiring, as we have multiple generations of professionals sharing their ideas and helping to bridge the gap in our career growth events and resources. Throughout our meetings, we’ve been able to launch an EDGE podcast series that allows multiple people to share their voices on how their early career journey have been. In the future, we’ll bring in people managers to get their feedback on how early careers have changed throughout the years. In addition, we are about to launch a pilot on our reverse mentorship program, which will be more of a mentorship circle connecting a variety of generations to discuss early career topics. I also think back to when I was a part of the Zebra internship program in the summer of 2016 and compare the program to where it is today. The growth that I’ve seen in the program has been amazing to witness firsthand as I feel the company has really been wanting to provide the most for its interns.
Deanna: Is there something that managers of early career employees should be doing to ensure they feel supported and able to excel in their new roles?
Gintare: Yes, it is important to expose early career employees to more than just their assigned role in Zebra. Providing networking opportunities across other departments and regions will help them build an understanding of the overall business and excel in their jobs. Ensuring they take advantage of the development tools offered is also important, as is encouraging them to get involved in some extra curriculum activities such as inclusion networks, community outreach programs or even industry organizations.
Tony: It’s also important to understand employees’ motivations and what they want to get out of their career. That can be extremely beneficial to the employee-manager relationship and help the employee feel comfortable talking to their manager about anything they want to address.
Vishv: Engagement is the key to driving today’s early career talent to excellence. Setting up a constant feedback loop with the team members to give them a bearing of their performance is vital for a team to succeed. And finally, everyone loves to have milestones in the professional journey which they are proud of, so rightly recognizing achievements of deserving employees will definitely lead them to embrace their work and bond well.
Deanna: What advice would you offer employers that are committed to the growth and success of early career employees?
Tony: I would say, as cliché as it sounds, to always give employees a forum – and the freedom – to ask questions and show their curiosity. I remember when I interned and then was in my first year being a full-time employee, I would pull together members of my team or those who I met across the company from time to time to get all my questions addressed, as I wanted to learn the business to my highest capacity. I would also recommend that people managers have constant conversations with early career employees (in a 1:1 meeting, for example) to discuss how they are doing and where they can improve.
Gintare: Highlight career growth and development opportunities from the start. It is important for early career individuals to envision what can be next in their careers. Showcasing all the opportunities is important. My supervisor when I started at Zebra as a Functional Consultant last year immediately highlighted that this position is a good starting point and a perfect position to build my knowledge and experience, however, this position also opens a lot of doors in the future depending on my interests. She informed me about all the different directions that I can go in the future and encouraged me to think about it in advance. Even while developing into my role as a Functional Consultant, I immediately started connecting with people who could help me in my future career steps. Then, after 15 months in my role of Functional Consultant, I was able to transition into a Project Manager position.
Vishv: Organizations are unyieldingly striving to provide the right mix of processes, instruments and support that matches the expectations of present-day employees. But there’s always room for ameliorating further. A couple of focus areas which today require unwavering introspection are inclusivity and growth avenues. A sense of belonging and getting space to grow personally and professionally can manifest and grow the trust an employee shares with the employer by leaps and bounds.
Deanna: If there was one thing organizations could do to improve their recruitment and retention of early career employees, what would it be based on your experience and conversations with early career professionals?
Vishv: An organization grows full steam when employees are valued and feel a strong organizational commitment. Today, professionals aren’t just looking for an organization with a good growth trajectory. They want to work for an organization which is committed to its vision and core values and shares a strong sense of corporate responsibility – a company that cares about its causes.
Tony: It’s important to understand their current motivation, whether they are coming out of college, returning from a break in their careers or just pursuing a new passion. In North America, there is an emphasis – whether driven by corporate or societal culture – that you must go to college. We’re told at a young age that it’s a requirement to have a career. But making college table stakes comes at a (huge) cost to that individual or their family. So, compensation and benefits may be of importance to someone in their early career phase. However, if one did not have to accrue loan payments in order to go to college and meet that minimum hiring eligibility, they may be ready and motivated by career progression and working up the organization faster in their early career phase. For example, I did not grow up with the best financial situation in my family. That’s why eliminating my college debt early was a big focus for me. I wanted to prepare myself to buy a home and settle down one day while also preparing for my future. Then again, an early career professional may just want to learn everything they possibly can about the industry. That may be their motivation when choosing where to work. Giving them opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge would probably be very appreciated.
Gintare: Provide a culture where early career support is available and promoted to the whole diverse group of early career individuals and not only to interns or recent graduates. It is important to embrace that someone who comes back from a gap of employment, is joining a new industry or starting a new career path (i.e., from HR to marketing) can and will also benefit from early career support. Another point from the conversations that I had with other early career professionals: it is important that organizations acknowledge that there is no one right path in starting your career in a specific sector or industry. Transferable skills gained by early career individuals need to be celebrated. I know that from my experience – the Zebra and Reflexis teams celebrated mine.
Let’s make a pact right now to #BreakTheBias around who fits the definition of an “early career employee” and who needs our support to learn and thrive in their new roles. Let’s not limit anyone’s access to resources or growth potential. Join us as we work to #BuildToday the workforce that will #CreateTomorrow!