Home » iFoster Discusses Engaging Gen Z As Shoppers And Staff
National Webinars

iFoster Discusses Engaging Gen Z As Shoppers And Staff

Gen Z

The Shelby Report hosted a webinar June 15, “Engaging Gen Z as Staff and Customers,” sponsored by iFoster. The nonprofit organization helps foster kids get the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

iFoster has partnered with members of the grocery industry for a number of years. As foster youth age out of the program, iFoster helps at-risk kids in its care find employment with no prior experience, Bob Reeves, executive VP of The Shelby Report, said at the beginning of the presentation. The program serves approximately 150,000 youth in foster care and provides $125 million in resources annually.

The term “Gen Z” refers to any person who was born between 1997 and 2012, with the oldest members turning 25 and the youngest turning 10 years old in 2022. This population includes approximately 67 million young people.

“iFoster engaged with a number of retailers such as…Food for Less, Albertsons and a few others and even some suppliers like Nabisco, Mondelez and they created a jobs program focusing on these that are aging out of the foster program. The retailers were all extremely happy with the program,” Reeves said.

Serita Cox, CEO and co-founder of iFoster, headed the discussion as she and her organization have “much experience” with those kids as they age out of the foster care system. 

“She is responsible for strategy and programs at iFoster,” Reeves said as he introduced Cox. “As the driving force behind iFoster, she brings her lived experience with foster care and devoted commitment to youth development initiatives.”

Cox began her presentation by sharing some of her program’s success, which includes Best New AmeriCorps Program nationwide in 2019, a 95 percent improvement in youth professional skills annually, 92 percent career retention with iFoster and 98 percent secondary education enrollment or graduation. 

“At least with our most at-risk Gen Z population, we have learned some stuff along the way and have been successful,” Cox said. 

She began by addressing some of the biggest challenges facing the grocery industry, which include inflation, supply chain issues and workforce shortages. She explained that the workforce shortage is “not an aberration but an accelerated trend” brought about by the COVID pandemic.

It has been exacerbated by the fact that the number of those aging out of the workforce is outpacing those who are entering the workforce. This has been accelerated by a 5.4 million retirements in the last two years and an immigration deficiency of 2 million, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce statistics presented by Cox. 

“We are dealing with a shrinking workforce and it looks that way for the foreseeable future,” she said. 

She explained that the Gen Z workforce is much different than what employers are expecting, stating that while the Baby Boomer generation had a “live to work” mentality, Gen Z has a “work to live” mentality. This mentality has been spread beyond Gen Z, according to Cox. 

“We believe that Gen Z, both as a workforce and as a customer, they fundamentally think differently than the majority of us. They are very much work to live…It’s not really about money, although a living wage is table stakes especially for our young people who need to be wholly self-sufficient…It’s these five other categories that make a real impression,” Cox said. 

These five categories include:

  • Meet me where I am;
  • Flexibility;
  • “Show Don’t Tell” Supervision;
  • Authentic Representation; and
  • Social Contract.

“There is a notion that they are not just showing up with the basic job skills one would expect,” Cox said of the first category. “It just isn’t the case and there is an expectation that we as employers meet them where they are.”

Gen Z workers are not coming to work with as many “soft skills” that previous generations should expect. These soft skills include effective communication, ability to work in teams or ability to handle critical feedback. This is where the idea, “meet me where I am” comes from. Gen Z workers have an expectation that employers should work with their employees to get them where they need to be instead of being expected to be there already. This coincides with many of the other categories presented. In fact, many of the categories overlap in some capacity, Cox said.

Categories such as the “show don’t tell” supervision and social contract are most commonly related to the first category. Gen Z workers expect a more “hands on” approach to leadership. Workers are expecting to see employers taking an active role in not only the leadership of management but also the work itself. Alongside that, Gen Z workers are expecting employers to provide value in the work. 

That value includes workers and consumers feeling that the company is involved in the community and should provide a fair representation of genders and ethnicities. 

“We see that Gen Z is juggling a lot of things. I know there are some expectations, especially in this labor shortage, that they should be available to work longer and more shifts. But they are juggling school, life and other things and work just isn’t their No. 1 commitment,” Cox said. “I will tell you that should you follow these needs, your workers will step up to the plate and many will exceed all expectations in terms of their ability to perform and deliver.” 

She continued underlining the importance of the “work to live” mentality and in order for businesses to succeed in working with the new generation, they must be able to accommodate. 

“Let me just underscore one more time, the Gen Z workforce are able to have this mindset and we don’t need to, we cannot push them back to the ‘live to work’ mindset. Because, quite frankly, they are in control. There are less of them than there are job opportunities…But I will give you a silver lining. Our view is that underprivileged youth are eager to work, they need to work. Those one-to-five reasons – meet me where I am, flexibility and all of that – is not a choice but if you bring that to their workforce they become very productive citizens,” Cox said. 

She explained that not only did previous iFoster youth have glowing recommendations from employers after aging out of the program, the organization itself also has seen staggering performance metrics in its call center, where it places many foster youth. The call center was in partnership with Los Angeles County to help at-risk populations schedule COVID vaccinations. 

Since placing kids with the call center, the organization boasted more than 1,000 appointments confirmed daily, reduced call wait time from over two hours to under three minutes and among other accomplishments, within eight months helped more than 20,000 Los Angeles residents get vaccinated, according to Cox. 

“Once they’re trained and we’ve assessed them as ready to go, they move into the call center for work experience. In this case, they got specific call center skills development and on the job training in healthcare. During their work experience their supervisors show, don’t tell them what is expected of them and they understand a lot faster. We do flexible weekly scheduling so every Friday, the schedule for next week goes out and we allow young people to tell us how they need to change their schedule. What we are actually seeing is when we are empowering young people, they are much more committed and we have highly reduced no-show rates and the statistics speak for themselves,” she said. 

Finally, Cox wrapped up her presentation by providing some ideas on how to implement these strategies in other businesses. Keeping track of employee metrics is the first step.

“That’s pretty easy. You can do it on a team-based shift basis or an individual basis, and we tie that all back to the professional development of our young people. So, back to basic job skills, specific job related skills – if you provide these, we can provide a youth upon entry. Then, every few months, we’re measuring their progress and we’re sharing it back with them so they can see how they’re developing,” Cox said.

“At the same time, we’re doing things like leader boards where they’re getting recognized by their peers and it’s been having an impact. There is a beautiful social impact from stocking a shelf to ensuring that a community has healthy foods they need to be when living in a community. Like I said, they want that broader connection. It’s so important for Gen Z to be able to understand how they add value.” 

To watch the full on-demand presentation, click here.

About the author

Jack R. Jordan

Content Creator

Jordan joined The Shelby Report in May of 2022 after over a year in the newspaper industry. A native of Marietta, Ga., he spent seven years in south Georgia where he studied writing and communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College where he graduated at the height of the pandemic. He spends too much time in the grocery store trying to find recipe ingredients so he looks forward to bringing you everything he can about the industry.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

How Can Technology Help Independent Grocers In A Global Pandemic?

With a tremendous uptick in technology solutions in the industry, LOC Software discusses the technology trends and product innovations heading for the future in independent grocery.

Learn More

Learn how grocers of all sizes can engage Gen Z – the 67 million young people born between 1997 and 2012. Gen Z’s are the most racially and ethnically diverse of any generation.

They are the future of your business – your customers, your staff, and the influencers who will impact the buying preferences of your customers and the values of your staff.

Watch Now

Featured Photos

Featured Photo Illuminator Torch Awards, April 5
Anaheim Hilton
Anaheim, California
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap