The Future of Talent: Understanding What Drives Generation Z

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Written by Ana C. Rold

Generation Z: despite the fact that they are often described as one of the most tech-savvy and entrepreneurial generations to date, there is surprisingly little information about this up-and-coming generation compared to their predecessors. With the oldest just beginning to enter adulthood and the youngest still toddling their way through babyhood, it is difficult to say exactly how Gen Z will influence the future of jobs. But factors such as technology, the economy and a shifting belief system are beginning to reveal how the prototypical Gen Z-er may behave, with a focus on self-reliance, cautious economic practices, and technology-centered communication. While the future remains foggy, one thing is certain: Gen Z is forecasted to reach 2.56 billion people by 2020, and with a current total spending power of $829.5 per year and growing, this generation is at the heart of the coming war for talent.

As the first generation to have truly grown up with in a more intimate way, Gen Z has an exceptional grasp on the digital world. From social media to programming all the way to developing new hardware, Gen Z’s understanding of, and dependence on technology has created a unique set of characteristics that future employers will ultimately benefit from. First, Gen Z are multitasking gurus—with access to mobile phones, computers, and tablets, today’s youth manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes’ worth of media content into 7 ½ hours of media usage per day, with a reported 66% of teens using more than one device at any given time. This ability to switch between not only different types of media but also different platforms—such as simultaneously using a mobile phone and a laptop—has created a population of digital natives with the ability to navigate several tasks on several devices at once.

Second, Gen Z’s overall dependence on social media has crafted a generation that is both more socially connected and capable of lightning fast communication than previous generations—surpassing even Millennials. With messaging, social media, and entertainment listed as the top three activities teens say they participate in when accessing the internet, it is easy to see how the digital world has enabled instant, global communication between different social groups. However, this speedy online communication comes with a price—46% of teachers say these digital tools make students more likely to write carelessly, with 68% concerned that they will decrease this generation’s ability to communicate deeply and effectively. Even more concerning, apprehension about situational awareness and real life social ability leads many to worry about how digital communication will affect interpersonal communication in the real world.

However, Gen Z’s desire for independence and entrepreneurship may be enough to make up for their potential lack of real world social prowess. Indeed, many Gen Z-ers are already beginning to make waves in technology, with applications such as Summly—which uses natural language processing and machine learning to generate news summaries from web pages—being sold for millions of U.S. dollars by teen and even tween moguls. Similarly, avenues such as YouTube channels, online boutiques and even fashion magazines are being created and run successfully by Gen Z-ers all around the world and all under the age of 18, with some as young as 8 years old able to successfully navigate the intricacies of business and begin to turn a profit.

It is this entrepreneurial spirit that will ultimately determine how Gen Z will affect the future of jobs. With a reported 72% of high school students determined to start a business during their lifetime and 61% yearning to work for themselves rather than an employer, Gen Z is posed to create an explosive set of independent, tech-savvy entrepreneurs enabled by their ability to use online resources (including social media) as a research tool along with other forms of technology.

Because they were born into, and influenced by a world of economic uncertainty, studies show that Gen Z tends to be more economically cautious than their daring Millennial predecessors. With over 80% of teens reporting that the economy and how much things cost are the two most harrowing issues they face in today’s world—beating out other issues such as the environment, war, and even terrorism—Gen Z tends to focus more heavily on education and work opportunities in order to safely enter the job marketplace. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 2 Generation Z-ers will be college-educated, a stark contrast to the 1 in 3 Millennials and 1 in 4 Generation X-ers that have completed a university education.

Despite this strong focus on education, those in Gen Z don’t necessarily want a traditional university experience. A survey by Northeastern University found that nearly ¾ (72%) of those surveyed believed that colleges should allow students to design their own course of study, with nearly half (42%) expecting to work for themselves in their future careers. With an overwhelming 81% stating that college is very or extremely important to having the career they want, it is easy to see that those in Gen Z want a strong—and self-guided—education experience in order to find a job that fulfills both their own individual passions as well as the needs of society.

Perhaps most hopeful of all, Gen Z appears determined to make a difference. Born into an age of economic uncertainty but with the individual self-confidence and a will to change the world, 38% of teens report that they are confident they will invent something that changes the world, with special focus placed on issues such as the environment, world hunger, and human’s impact on the planet. And Gen Z isn’t just talk—with an estimated 26% of 16 to 19-year-olds currently volunteering, career tracks such as social entrepreneurship and other socially-engaged careers are on the rise.

Ultimately, Gen Z’s innate technological abilities, cautious economic activity and social activism have the potential to not only create a path to success for themselves, but also create the environment necessary to enable real social change. In this age of global talent scarcity and war for talent, the job marketplace needs to prepare and understand this generation’s potential to bring about transformative change.

About the author:  Ana C. Rold is Founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier.  She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold.