Just when we all finally think we have a handle on how to talk to, interact with, attract, and retain Millennials, the inevitable happens: A new generation comes of age. Sorry, Millennials, but it looks like soon you may have some competition for that bright spotlight. While members of Generation Z (loosely defined as people born between 1995 and today) may still have a few years before they begin to trickle into our corporate halls, they will be the next big generation to enter the workforce after the Millennials, or Gen Y. If history has taught us anything, it’s that HR and L&D can be slow to adjust to the changing needs of the workforce. Hopefully we will be better prepared for Generation Z and the changes they will inspire.
Generation Z is innately reliant on technology. These individuals have been using technology since infancy; however, unlike their Millennial and Gen X counterparts, Generation Z will be “normal” users of technology, meaning they won’t necessarily be the most tech savvy when it comes to programming behind the device. What does this mean for HR and L&D? We should be thinking about how we can automate and use technology in our work processes, structures, and so forth to cater to Generation Z’s technological preferences, but don’t expect this generation to be as technologically savvy or adept as previous generations. They just want technology that is easy to use and will solve their problems, help coordinate their activities, or provide them with relevant people or information.
Generation Z is hyper-connected. The connected quality of the Millennial generation will only be amplified by Generation Z. In fact, a recent Wikia study cited that 60 percent of Generation Z says they like to share their knowledge with others online. This is a strong indicator that this generation will want access to collaborative learning opportunities and technologies once they have entered the workforce. Due to their abundant use of social media, they will likely approach learning and development in a networked fashion, much like the Millennial generation, so it makes sense to continue thinking about how to integrate social learning elements into L&D practices.
Generation Z is increasingly “in the moment.” This generation will spend way more time in the “relevant now,” leveraging pertinent information and knowledge that is dependent on what a particular moment dictates. This means that pre-scheduled and pre-planned learning activities (for example, training or lectures) will be less effective in developing these individuals. Generation Z will be much more likely to engage in ad hoc and on-demand learning and development activities, enabled by technology, that are related and relevant to the individual in that moment. This generation will bring a whole new meaning to just-in-time learning.
Generation Z = mobile. According to a 2012 Forrester Research study, Generation Z is the second largest demographic owning an iPhone (24 percent), with Millennials ranking highest at 29 percent. It seems safe to say that Generation Z will be highly mobile and will demand learning and development opportunities that can support their free and nomadic nature. It’s not out of the question to see the standard 9 to 5 desk job fade into an era defined by mobile work and supported by mobile corporate learning and development.
The bottom line: Like their Gen Y predecessors, Generation Z will rely on their network of relationships to help them facilitate their own professional learning and development and help them navigate through the corporate world. As learning leaders, we need to consider Generation Z’s characteristics and take a critical look at our L&D programs, courses, materials, and the like to determine if our practices can accommodate the growing ranks of our multigenerational workforces. If we’ve learned anything from the influx of Millennials, it’s that we better prepare for this now so we can be ready for tomorrow.