It’s 2030. You’re managing a company that produces artificially intelligent internet connected consumer products. As you glance over your co-working hub you see people on their laptops, some in their virtual reality haptic gears, meeting with their teams 5000 miles away. Some are chatting with their robotic assistants which have become trained enough to tell personalized jokes. As the CEO of a globally distributed company you’re managing a bunch of Generation Zers, not very different from the ones inhabiting your co-working space. Some are in the U.S., some in India, some are in Belarus, but all are connecting with you on Slack 2.0 updating you on their work progress. One thing you know instinctively, this group is wise beyond their years and seriously ambitious. Yet they’re so temporally inexperienced that you sometimes have to offer historical anecdotes from a remarkably different past and do your best to impart the type of wisdom one can only acquire through a long life.
Welcome to the Generation Z workforce.
If you want to understand Gen Z, you have to understand the future they will inhabit
We are all products of our genes and our environment. While genetic differences are evenly distributed over time – at least for now, the environmental context differs over the decades, which means that different generations will have different ways of relating to the world around them.
Here are some key trends that have changed over the past two decades, and how this will impact your future employees
In 2013 I suggested that Helicopter Parenting was being replaced by Resilience Parenting. While helicopter parents were known for hovering over and protecting their children at every life choice, resilience parents see the value in learning by failing. The latter style is the latest rave in parenting philosophies, which means that kids growing up today are not as overly protected as Millennials were. Generation Z is also growing up in a time where they have access to the world events at their fingertips, so it is harder to scrutinize all the information ending up on their retina. This has some worrying effects on Gen Z’s mental health, but at the very least, they know the world is made up of more than lemon drops and gum drops. The long-term effects of the raw, unmoderated content on young audiences is yet to be explored, and will become a major issue for Generation Alpha.
Values and Opinion Formation
While every previous generations of youth cast as notoriously apathetic, Post-Millennials, Post-911s or Post-Recessionaries are highly attuned to what is happening in the world. The yearning to know what is happening is shifting their attention from highly scripted cable-TV plots to unmoderated, authentic interpretations of their favorite stars on YouTube. In fact, in a survey I have conducted over several years, more than half of Generation Z idolize YouTubers over traditional celebrities. Young people growing up in this less than predictable era want to change the world, and are making plans to do so. Which brings me to the next paragraph.
Many of this generation have received alternative education or homeschooling, and contrary to in previous years, homeschooling has less to do with religious or spiritual reasons, and more to do with pedagogy. Modern parents are losing faith in the existing educational system, and many believe they have not adapted to more modern teaching styles and curricula. This sentiment is reflected among business leaders. One survey showed that only 11% of business leaders feel that students have learned what they need to learn to adapt to the workforce. In a survey I conducted with Knowledge Works we found that students feel increasingly disappointed in the ability of their long educations to meet the demands of the workforce.
More realistic – and perhaps better prepared?
The last few years have produced a slew of surveys depicting Generation Z as being more pessimistic or realistic than their older Millennial brethren were at the same age. This is another stark trend found in surveys conducted by After the Millennials. In computerized sentiment analyses on unstructured text it was found that while Millennials seem more enthusiastic in their responses, Generation Z’s language is more somber – opposite of what one might think given their youthful, naturally optimistic life phase. At the same time, we noticed that Generation Z is exhibiting more faith in reaching their career goals, especially those who use modern technology for educational purposes. I think it is safe to take this to mean that Generation Z is more realistic, yet are developing more clear goals on how to fend for themselves in the future.
Entrepreneurial and Aware of Automation Threats
Generational Z is highly entrepreneurial. Some studies project more than 60% to become self-employed in the future. This trend is driven by many variables. On the one hand, spending their formative years in a recession and its aftermath has etched frugality into their mindset. And while many of their parents have recovered from the economic downturn, many still struggle with the long-term effects. Economically prudent Generation Z is using every means available to prepare for their own financial futures and is looking for job stability more than self-actualization. Moreover, they have grown up seeing self-taught Silicon Valley mavericks building some of the largest empires in modern history. Knowing they have the same technology available as these tycoons, many are bent on teaching themselves skills their school districts haven’t even considered putting on the agenda for their yearly board meetings yet!
Again, I have found overwhelming evidence in our data that young people in the 21th century are not leaving it to the establishment to decide their career paths. When you combine a 37% risk of being automated by artificial intelligence with six-figure tuition costs, it’s not surprising Gen Zers are staking out their own career paths and not following centuries old educational scripts. Anything else would be riskier than gambling!
The Future of Work
And this brings me to my last point. Instead of asking how Generation Z will be prepared for the workforce, maybe we should ask: Are employers ready for them? Will you take full advantage of their self-motivation, autodidact independence, technological savvy, inventiveness and yearning for realism and authenticity? Will you allow them to help your organization claim the opportunities of the future?
Image source: Wikimedia Commons