Gen Z: What to Know About the Next Wave of Workers
It was March 11th just days before the University of Wisconsin-Madison spring break began. Everyone was slowly becoming more aware of the circumstances surrounding COVID-19. It had been all over national television, but nobody knew exactly what was coming. That afternoon, UW-Madison declared that they would be moving all course material to online instruction.
Students across campus were elated for the most part upon disclosure of the news. They were excited to know that they could have even more freedom in completing their degree from the location of their choice. What many us didn’t understand was the seriousness and impact that this crisis would have on us. First-year students were forced out of their dorms, international students sent home, parents laid off work, students laid off work, a clunky new online teaching format, a severe drop in academic learning quality, and the list goes on.
2020 graduates quickly saw many entry-level opportunities disappear. Even those who had received and accepted offers with dream jobs in one of the longest bull markets in American history many months prior, saw them rescinded in a matter of days. We’ve found ourselves in a sea of unemployed workers that is the American economy.
So, what should you know about the next wave of American workers?
We adapt quickly
Gen Z was the first generation to experience growing up during a digital age. Gen Z is categorized as the birth years between 1997 – 2012. The current population of college students grew up with cellphones in grade school, iPads in high school, and remote classes in college—all firsts not experienced by any generation that came before. How we communicate, learn, and view the world has been significantly changing since the day we entered the world.
Change has become ingrained in our minds. I will be careful not to say other generations haven’t endured significant change. It’s simply to say that each following generation sees more of it. The progress and inevitable integration of man and machine grow closer every day, which is an exponential relationship in nature. Older generations may seem more resistant to change from our point of view not because they are stubborn, but because they have become accustomed to a lower rate of change than their successors.
Don’t get me wrong we had the best of both worlds as most of us still played outside as young kids growing up. We weren’t researching new technology every day and preparing for its impacts. But when the time called for change, we were the best equipped for it. Because that’s what young minds do, they learn at a much faster rate.
We have shorter attention spans
Because we grew up with so much change, we seek out constant stimuli during our daily lives. Think about how often you might catch yourself out of boredom reaching for your phone, finding a colleague to chat with, or turning to something other than the task you should be focused on. It happens more than you think. If we don’t find a task engaging, we look for something else to captivate our attention.
Personally, if I don't find a task stimulating, I will make sure I still complete it by listening to one of my favorite podcasts in the background and throwing my cellphone across the room to avoid it. We need responsibilities that challenge us to think differently. It is what we’ve been ingrained to do throughout our education process. We are still eager to learn and failing to present the opportunity will result in lost value for employers of Gen-Z and themselves.
We are facing a new reality
Okay so hear me out. Every generation feels like they had to deal with their long list of inherent struggles, and they are entitled to more because of them. I am in no position nor should anyone be to judge the struggles of each generation. We have all been through different challenges at different ages which is great for all of society, that is if we decide to listen and learn from them.
Gen-Z is experiencing new challenges that while not specifically unique to them, absorb the greatest impact. College tuition has exploded 1400% since 1978. Long-lived federal programs like Social Security or Medicare may fall through upon coming of age for them. Remote education in programs that are not equipped to fulfill required knowledge milestones. Overlooked for financial federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, entering the workforce in the lowest employment rate in 50 years. While these are not tests uniquely for Gen-Z, they are ever-present and unavoidable for the next generation of workers.
It is not empathy we seek. It is understanding. Understand and appreciate the challenges we all have overcome rather than compare and debate the severity of the obstacles faced.
We will be prepared for the next crisis
COVID-19 was a taste of the real world for many of us getting ready to enter the workforce. We won’t take for granted what we have now and know that any moment it could be stripped from us. This may cause us to seem more cautious or risk-averse, but can you blame us? Having a back-up plan in moments of chaos will be at the top of many of our minds for years to come. Expect us to start saving sooner, wanting more guarantees from employers, and being wary to give away trust.
It is up to the employers of tomorrow to decide how they will treat new generations of workers and the traits they possess. If you are interested more in how you can successfully hire, develop, and retain new generations of talent we are here to help. We have a young team ourselves and continuously work to use their unique skills and ideas to further innovation within our business.