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73: Water Nerd’s Guide to Gen Z: The Future of the Water Workforce


Ben Brugler holds the titles of president and CEO of akhia. He previously held the titles of president and vice president before being transitioned into his current position in 2018. Under Ben’s leadership, the agency has grown from 15 to more than 60 employees, earning a spot as a Top 100 Workplace in Northeast Ohio, as well as placement on the Weatherhead 100 list of fastest-growing companies in the region.

With more than 15 years of experience in the industry, Ben is well-known among clients and the regional business community as a master facilitator and speaker on topics ranging from content marketing to thought-leadership positioning.

In 2011, he was named to Crain’s Forty under 40 list for his contributions to AKHIA’s Growth.

Top Takeaways:

  1. We need to start planning for the Gen Z workforce because they are coming fast and we are behind. In 2020, 20% of the workforce will be comprised of Gen Z.
  2. Internal communication has never been more important within organizations than it is right now.
  3. Gen Z does not communicate on social media the same way Millennials have – they are not putting their whole life out there on social media.

Show Notes:

[8:40] Millennials are already here. Who is Gen Z? 

  • People think millennials are still 20 somethings – not true, we are in our 30’s now. They are a maturing generation.
  • Youngest Gen Z’s are digitally native. They have full immersion into digital and technology.
  • Gen Z balances technology better (e.g., texting while driving compare with seat belts).
  • 2020 – 20% of the workforce will be Gen Z.

[14:23] You talked about the biggest myths about Gen Z, what stands out the most? 

  • Gen Z will only communicate on digital channels – That’s untrue.  Over 70% want face to face connections.
  • 37% worry technology is hurting their people skills.
  • Aware of the consequence of putting your whole life out there on social media.

[18:58] Gen Z wants to work somewhere where they can have multiple roles. What are some other characteristics they are looking for in the water industry? 

  • Our industry has significant labor shortage issues. There is a web of opportunities – no silos, more cross training.
  • The water sector has a major focus on education and training – that’s a strength.
  • Value of credentials versus more degrees.
  • Readily available educational and training resources.
  • Discussion on specialty colleges and alternative pathways to 4-year college degrees.

[28:00] It is very expensive to train new employees, what is the most shocking number to you? 

  • Turnover costs the US Economy $30 Billion annually.
  • The number of weeks an open position has gone from 8 weeks to 12 weeks. That’s a lot of loss work and productivity.
  • 30% of employees leave in the first 6 months of employment.
  • 30-40% of employees feel they are not engaged at work.
  • Disengaged employees cost a company 85% more than an engaged one.
  • We all want a human answer – talk human to humans.

[38:58] What are some ways as an industry we are playing catch up on communications? 

  • The methods of communications are outdated. Employees don’t necessarily engage in message boards and email.
  • There is an overabundance of communications for employees. Transparency means communicate what’s important not communicate everything.
  • No customizable communications. The audience has 5 different generations.
  • Desire a two-way communication – employees, especially Gen Z have a need to be heard.

[45:10] What are the components of an internal communication program? 

  • Employee Experience.
  • Employee Engagement.
  • Training and Development.
  • Human Resources.
  • Crisis Communications.

[51:33] Brainstorming has been replaced by education. Can you tell us what you mean by that? 

  • Brainstorming is annoying – it feels draining and tired.
  • The days of an “idea” are gone – you have to not only develop an idea but talk about how its implemented and advanced.
  • Fun brainstorming parties used as icebreakers are gone – moving towards Design Thinking.
  • The creation of a good idea is a process not magic.

[56:41] The Lighting Round

  • The Disney Way – Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson
  • Review Industry Feed and LinkedIn. Make connections with people I haven’t heard from in a while.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Respect one another. It all comes back to communication.


The Disney Way – Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson


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