(Editor’s Note: PPAI Media’s Voices series introduces the opinions and advice of promo industry influencers on a variety of topics for which they specialize. The opinions and ideas belong to the individual writer and may not represent those of PPAI or their respective employer.)

What got us here won’t get us there. Or, more directly, who got us here won’t get us there.

Annual revenues for the U.S. promo market in 2022 were nearly $26 billion, an industry record and a welcome return to pre-pandemic levels. But with goals of steady future growth, the promo industry, like so many others, is facing the challenge of a highly competitive labor environment, requiring that we take a strategic approach to attracting younger talent to join our ranks.

Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2012, represent today’s youngest workers and comprise between a quarter and a third of the current U.S. workforce.

Like every generation before them, their values and behaviors are defined by the individual and societal circumstances of their upbringing. For Gen Z, formative considerations include the ubiquity of the internet and social media, global and domestic terrorism, political unrest and polarization, climate risk and the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, members of this generation tend to be digital natives and social progressives – voraciously consuming online media and making purchase and employment decisions that align with their values, including a desire for more equity, sustainability, transparency, and accountability in business practices, as well as economic opportunity and career growth. And they want to protect and enhance their own well-being even as they seek to achieve these principles.

Our industry – with our flexible, entrepreneurial work environment, supportive community, continuous learning and growth opportunities, and commitment to inclusivity and green initiatives – is uniquely positioned to appeal to these emerging leaders.

       RELATED: The 2023 PPAI Rising Stars competition is underway. Nominate an emerging leader by July 27.

To win the hearts and minds, we must be more deliberate in our efforts to inform and engage them. We need to sell our industry’s opportunity and benefits in ways that will resonate with Gen Z.

For example, at AIA, we are a proud sponsor of the Promotional Products Education Foundation which provides college scholarships to support industry-related educational goals. We host networking and mastermind groups for young professionals and are exploring additional opportunities to promote the industry at local career fairs.

As an industry, we could explore similar tactics, as well as develop an industry-sponsored campaign that highlights the Gen Z-relevant benefits offered by a career in promo, using all our channels for maximum amplification. This campaign could achieve activation through resources provided to community colleges that describe what we do, including key considerations and benefits of a career in promo.

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I’m ready to tackle this opportunity. Are you?

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said, “Control your own destiny or someone else will.” If we want our industry to continue to flourish, it is vital that we reach, connect with, and inspire younger generations to apply their energy and talent to a career in promo.

As today’s leaders, it is our responsibility to find the talent that will lead the promo industry into the future.

Schmidt is the CEO of AIA (PPAI 101364, D12). Under her leadership, the company has earned honors as one of PPAI Magazine’s Greatest Companies to Work For in promotional products, and she has been named one of the most influential people in the industry. AIA ranked as the No. 29 ranked distributor in the 2023 PPAI 100 listing of industry leading companies.