A guide to education and engaging the youngest generation entering the workforce
Move over millennials, there’s a younger group moving into your office! Generation Z, defined by Pew Research as anyone born after 1997, is the largest generation group in American history, making up 27% of the US population. As corporate trends have shifted in recent years to accommodate millennials, this desire to innovate workplace training and development will undoubtedly continue as Generation Z begins to graduate college and seek employment alongside not only millennials, but Generation X, and even baby boomers.
Learning and development professionals will be asked to meet this new challenge head-on, and assist with recruiting and retaining the best talent. This means Generation Z’s learning styles and preferences will have a significant impact on instructional design as we know it. The following five facts about Generation Z reflect their collective traits and desires, and knowledge of how to best work with this fascinating new group of colleagues, will empower you to create content to best meet their needs and the needs of your organization.
Generation Z-ers don’t remember life without smartphones. They learned to use touch screens as toddlers, have had social media accounts since childhood, and have instinctual relationships with technology. These are all traits of digital natives, children who grew up after the usage of digital technology became commonplace.
The implications digital natives will have on learning and development are profound. Their comfort with technology and their reliance on it are a definitive feature of the members of this generation. Keeping up with trends in the industry of instructional design, members of Generation Z may prefer online learning, microlearning, and social learning opportunities. Digital natives are not just technically savvy; they expect technology to be interwoven into how they work and how they learn.
Millennials may remember early days in school without regular access to computers, whereas Generation Z only knows life with unlimited information available with the tap of a finger on a search engine.
This has led members of Generation Z to expect access to knowledge whenever, and wherever they want it. This expectation aligns with current industry trends of creating content on responsive authoring tools such as Knowbly™ that publish to flexible outputs. Being “mobile-friendly” is no longer sufficient; content must be fully functional and visually engaging on any device today’s learners choose for accessing content. Microlearning is another trend that accommodates Generation Z’s mobile-centric attention spans, by offering “bite-sized” learning opportunities that learners can browse and consume binge-style, similar to how they search Netflix or YouTube for content that piques their interest.
According to Business Insider, “Advanced college degrees are less important to [Generation Z]. 64% of Gen Z-ers are considering an advanced college degree, compared to 71% of Millennials.” There are many possible causes for this phenomenon, ranging from the concept that individuals can gain proficiency through informal self-studies of content online, to rising costs of higher education, and the high costs of student loan debt.
The impact of fewer candidates having or pursuing advanced degrees will have ripple effects in corporate learning. Organizations may find themselves having to make up the gap in fields where continuing education is necessary, which may lead to a heightened focus on experiential learning, on-the-job training, and mentorship with more experienced employees. Characteristically, Generation Z may be pleased with these approaches, as studies have found them to be more receptive to face-to-face interactions than their Millennial counterparts. Forbes even reports that 53% of Generation Z claim to “prefer in-person discussion over instant messaging or email.” They may be digital natives, but this generation certainly finds value in tried and true methods of communication.
A 2015 study conducted by Ford Motor Company in conjunction with BAV Consulting found that “58% of adults worldwide ages 35+ agree that kids today have more in common with their global peers than they do with adults in their own country.” As more people around the world come together online, Generation Z will lead the way in using technology to forge both personal and professional relationships.
The impact here for learning and development in global enterprise organizations is clear. Generation Z will arrive on the job, devices in hand, ready to conduct business with the global peers they came of age with online. Even smaller mid-size and national organizations feel the effect of globalization as they compete in both their industries and to attract top talent. Learning and development professionals must acknowledge globalization and global audiences in the content they create, through practices such as translating content into various languages, being mindful of using imagery and activities that have global appeal, and offering specific regional content where necessary.
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