Generation Z: new kids on the virtual block

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The post-millennium generation will live in virtual worlds and used to globalisation. Virginia Matthews reports

More Generation Y articles

They may be little more than toddlers now, but the generation born after 2002 will work differently to their parents.

Set to probably be the least physically active generation of children we have known, Generation Z workers, those born post-2002, may offer employers a flexibility of approach so far unknown in the world of work.

In tune with technology and innately eco-conscious, Gen Z-ers will be content to travel our world virtually. And suborbital space flights via Virgin Galactic will probably take care of any other worlds they fancy. They’ll consider the idea of ‘teleporting’ their online selves to urgent meetings in China or India a simple process.

The end of physical wanderlust may have economic advantages for tomorrow’s employer but there will be a major upswing in health initiative costs as employers contend with the legacy of today’s trend of soaring childhood obesity.

“It is possible that Generation Z will be the most unhealthy, overweight group of workers the world has seen,” says Richard Doherty, sales director of the talent management software consultancy Jobpartners, “and what employers save on business travel, they will no doubt spend on corporate gym membership and health insurance.”

Virtual world

Although they have been dismissed as the ‘Silent Generation’ on account of the time they will spend online, Gen Z may prove to be more imaginative than the rest of us suppose, says Keith Dugdale, director of global recruitment at KPMG.

“The virtual world is utterly real to millions of young people and for those who have never known a life without the internet, as is the case with Gen Z, it will prove an immensely powerful influence on every aspect of life and work.

“As employers, we can expect this generation to be more lateral-thinking than any other and to convert the UK into a genuine 24/7 society.”

While Dugdale believes it’s too early to say whether post-2002 children will grow up to be more easy-going than Generation Y, he predicts that their love of computer games will make them more imaginative, less rigid and therefore more flexible in their thinking than Gen Y.

Diversity awareness 

Having grown up with a raft of anti-discrimination and pro-family legislation, it is to be hoped that Gen Z will also be more diversity-aware, he adds.

“I believe they will consider it unthinkable that firms would wish to discriminate against the disabled or block a new mother from being promoted,” Dugdale says.

“Virtual networking sites such as Second Life allow young people to take on different identities, races and even a different gender and these formative experiences are helping liberate them from the narrow attitudes around diversity that my generation grew up with.”

Much has been made of Generation Z being born into a world obsessed with international terrorism and fundamentalist Islam, similar to the way baby boomers were taught to fear a nuclear holocaust and Russia in the aftermath of the ‘Cold War.’

Although the post-millennium workforce will accept the legacy of 9/11 as the norm, as well as less personal liberty than those who are products of the 1960s or 70s, the economic gloom descending on today’s children may have its advantages, says Richard Doherty.

“Not being able to apply for a mortgage or hefty loans may, for many people, be as empowering as Generation X thought home ownership was. As long as there is a plentiful supply of rental accommodation, it is possible that the expectation of vast salaries, as well as the intense pressure to perform, may give way to a less frantic and more fulfilling type of working life for many Gen Z-ers,” he says.

It will be be a unique time in which to be young and job-hunting, our ageing population having turned Gen Z into a scarce resource, but what skills will these post-millennials have to offer?

Doherty predicts that multilingual skills will become increasingly in demand, particularly Mandarin and Spanish.

If money continues to be tight, says Heather Coller, director of the National Council for Work Experience, being work-ready will become vital for UK graduates looking to usurp their Asian counterparts.

“Top employers are already looking outside the UK for their next generation of high-fliers and our undergraduates need to understand that,” she says.

If the prospect of interviewing a candidate born post-2002 may seem, for some HR practitioners, rather daunting, it’s worth remembering that Generation Z is only one of the new breed of employees waiting to unleash their power on the business world.

10 traits for Generation Z-ers

  1. An essentially transient workforce, Gen Z will move to where the work is, rather than expect to find employment in their home town.
  2. Relentlessly tested from nursery school onwards, they will see constant appraisal and feedback as the norm, not the exception.
  3. Diversity and equality will be a fundamental way of doing business, not a feel-good perk.
  4. Gen Z will have more degrees, certificates and diplomas than any generation in history, but will need encouragement to notch up meaningful work experience.
  5. Many schools and colleges will be sponsored by employers in a bid to secure young talent early on.
  6. High salaries will be less crucial as mortgages, bank loans and even private car ownership is consigned to the history books.
  7. Life will be lived primarily via the web and for those who find work less than satisfying, a virtual or second life will become their comfort blanket.
  8. Loyalty to employers and engagement at work will become an urgent priority as young workers switch jobs and locations more often.
  9. Generous access to technology as children, but limited physical freedom means Gen Z will grow up fast. The erosion of their childhood may see many of them breaking out of the rat race later on in life.
  10. Political life will become less significant as Gen Z-ers exercise power via their online identities, not the ballot box.