Generation Z—the iGeneration—wants everyone to get real—about college, work, and life. In Part 2, we explored how technology has shaped this generation. In Part 3, our final segment of the interview, Gen Xer David Stillman and his son, Gen Zer Jonah, explain how Gen Z will disrupt the world of work, for good.
How are companies adapting and preparing for Generation Z?
David: The first step will be recruiting them. Smart companies are figuring out what value propositions they need to put forth. For Millennials, it was all about how they could make a difference in the world, even more than a paycheck. For Gen Z, it will be about salary and benefits first, and how they will be able to advance. That’s a huge shift. In addition, companies trying to recruit Gen Z are realizing that it is all about hyper-customization. This generation has only known a world where they can download their own playlists, design their own Nike shoes, and create a customized college degree. For Gen Z, everything has always been about standing out from the crowd. Therefore, it will be important that each Gen Z recruit feel that the job being offered to them is unique. Our national studies showed how Gen Z is looking for customization. For example, 56 percent of Gen Z would rather write their own job description than be given a generic one, and 62 percent of Gen Z would rather customize their own career plan than have the organization lay one out for them.
Jonah: Companies on the leading edge are getting on our radar as early as possible. Because we are in survival mode, we are focused on creating security at a younger age. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z feels pressure to gain professional experience in high school. Traditional industries are struggling with Gen Z because they are not on the radar. We are daydreaming out the window to work at companies like Netflix or Google. We aren’t likely thinking about agriculture or manufacturing. Usually companies think about reaching out to college students to get on the radar, or they offer things like internships. But innovative companies are looking for ways to partner with high schools to get on the radar even sooner.
How is education being disrupted by Generation Z?
David: Unfortunately, higher education is one area that missed their window to be in proactive mode, and is now in reactive mode. Gen Z has completely disrupted higher education. It used to be you went to college to figure out what you wanted to do with your life. Gen Z feels you should only go to college unless you already know what you want to be. However, most higher education institutions are still pitching an old value proposition to students to come find themselves at their college. This falls flat with Gen Z, where 61 percent said they need to know what career they want to pursue before they go to college. Colleges need to position themselves like trade schools. The other big disruption comes from Gen Z’s fear of college debt. Sixty-seven percent of Gen Z indicate their top concern is being able to afford college. Unless Gen Z can see a connection between what they are learning and how it will apply to their future, they will feel like they are wasting money. Classes like art history or Greek civilization will feel too focused on the past. Institutions that are incorporating real-world experience are connecting more with Gen Z.
The other big disruption comes from Gen Z’s fear of college debt..
Jonah: Technology has definitely been a game changer when it comes to education. Since 9th grade, I have had an iPad at school. It used to be you looked at your teacher as the one to know it all. They called this “sage on stage.” For my generation, we will look to Google and the Internet for answers. We still need our teachers help sifting through and analyzing answers, but it has changed their role. The new model is “guide on the side.” This might cause problems with our future bosses when we don’t look to them for all the answers. There could be a few bruised egos. The other part technology has played in education has to do with its effect on our comfort level with where and how we learn. Things like an online degrees are normal for us. Fifty percent of Gen Z said an online degree is the same as a traditional degree. The other generations don’t necessarily feel that way.
How did each of you become experts on this topic, and how do you each lend a different perspective?
David: For the past 20 years, I have been researching, writing, and speaking about all the generations in our workplace and marketplace. I have written two books and have been able to prove that understanding generational gaps can improve connecting with a multigenerational workplace as well as selling and marketing to different generations of customers. This expertise comes from conducting continuous primary research and focus groups, as well as interviews with thousands of leaders across industries. Having seen so many leaders make the mistake of treating a new generation like the one that came before it, I knew it was going to be important to get a jump start on Gen Z. Being the father of three Gen Zers, it felt only natural to bring them into the process.
Jonah: I’ve grown up my whole life watching my dad study the generations. Many of our dinner conversations have been about the differences between Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Every year, each kid got to go with my dad to a conference that was in a great location—usually Disney. As much as we went with him for the chance to hit the pool or rides, I always loved going with him to hear him speak. I never got tired of listening to him talk passionately about the topic and especially about his generation. I always wondered when he would talk about my generation. When Gen Z started to make its presence known, I was intimately involved in helping my dad conduct the three national studies. I’m sure there will be lots of Gen Z by experts and speakers out there. There will never be one voice of Gen Z, but there is something to trying to be one of the first to put it on the radar. We have found a great balance, where my role is to shed light on who Gen Z is, while my dad can tap into 20 years of experience to explain where we will likely click and clash with the rest and what we can all do about it.
If you had to describe Generation Z in one word, what would it be?