How Will Generation Z Change Your Workforce?

Unlike previous generations that may have been reluctant, and even scared, to do things differently, Generation Zers may leap right in.

Just when you finally adapted to having a workforce dominated by Millennials, it’s time to welcome Generation Z, comprising people born after 1996. As a cynical, grouchy Generation Xer, I lump Millennials and Generation Z people into one category I call “everyone who has the nerve to be younger than me.”

But it turns out it’s more complex than that. Generation Z is distinct from the Millennial generation, according to information from the Pew Research Center summarized by Kim Parker and Ruth Igielnik.

If your company hasn’t leaned into Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DE&I) initiatives, now may be a good time to start. Generation Z is more diverse than any previous generation, including Millennials. A company that has always been predominantly white and male, or is diverse only at the lower and mid-levels, may struggle to reach out to and accommodate this newest generation. “Generation Z represents the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic makeup. A bare majority (52 percent) are non-Hispanic white—significantly smaller than the share of Millennials who were non-Hispanic white in 2002 (61 percent). One-in-four Gen Zers are Hispanic, 14 percent are Black, 6 percent are Asian, and 5 percent are some other race or two or more races,” Parker and Igielnik write.

To keep your talent pipeline strong, you will need recruiters, Human Resources, and Learning professionals who understand from their own experience how best to reach and resonate with Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnic and racial groups with populations that are on the rise. If you don’t have recruiters and Learning professionals who are themselves from the groups of people you are trying to reach, you likely will fall short in winning the best and brightest of the youngest generation.

The “best and brightest” may mean something more impressive than ever with Generation Z, as these young people are on track to be better educated than any previous generation. “Among 18- to 21-year-olds no longer in high school in 2018, 57 percent were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college. This compares with 52 percent among Millennials in 2003 and 43 percent among members of Gen X in 1987,” according to Parker and Igielnik. They also are more likely than previous generations to have a college-educated parent.

That higher level of education, and the greater likelihood that these young people were raised in educated households, means that the learning materials that engaged older generations may not work with them. Course content will need to be updated or developed to accommodate the greater base of knowledge Generation Z employees likely come to work with. My guess is they also will benefit from immersive virtual learning programs that enable self-determination in how the course is consumed and progresses. These include simulations with branching abilities that go in one direction versus another based on the user’s selections. Critical thinking instead of memorization would be what most engages a highly educated person. A static multiple-choice test based on facts memorized probably would not go over so well.

Corporate change initiatives may get a boost with the youngest employees arriving at your company. Generation Zers see family and societal change as a good thing. Unlike previous generations that may have been reluctant, and even scared, to do things differently, Generation Z may leap in. Many Generation Z individuals come from what once would have been considered “untraditional” households.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data, approximately 3-in-10 (29 percent) live in a household with an unmarried parent, while 66 percent live with two married parents. A roughly comparable share of Millennials (69 percent) lived with two married parents at a similar age, but the shares among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers were significantly larger (72 percent and 86 percent, respectively). Of those Gen Zers who were living with two married parents, in most cases, both of those parents are in the labor force (64 percent). This compares with a slightly higher share of Millennials who were living with two parents at a comparable age (66 percent had two parents in the labor force), and a slightly lower share of Gen Xers (61 percent).

Traditional views of gender also have been dispensed with among the youngest generation of adults. “Gen Zers are much more likely than those in older generations to say they personally know someone who prefers to go by gender-neutral pronouns, with 35 percent saying so, compared with 25 percent of Millennials, 16 percent of Gen Xers, 12 percent of Boomers, and just 7 percent of Silents. This generational pattern is evident among both Democrats and Republicans,” Parker and Igielnik write.

This is good news on the innovation front. People who come from a generation with so many different, yet acceptable, ways of doing things might be more open minded about new ways of doing things at your company. It may be that they will be the generation to revolutionize how you attract and engage with customers and how you develop products.

To experience those benefits, though, you first have to get them to join your company. Do you know yet how you will attract and develop Generation Zers?

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