Talkin’ ‘bout my generation – Generation Z enters Higher Education and the Workplace

The millennials are no longer the new generation and have given way to Generation Z who are now entering the workplace and University. Generation Z refers to the generation born from around 1995 onwards. They differ from the millennials who were born between 1980 and 1995 and were dubbed digital natives. This generation are digital intuitives and have grown up with technology as an extension of their identity.

Learning more about the students we are educating, their passions and the differences from prior generations will help to inform curriculum design and delivery including how we embed employability skills. I’ve summarised some of the characteristics and how we might address them below.

Emerging research tells us Generation Z are more socially aware but also report higher levels of stress and depression than their predecessor generations. A contributing factor, affecting resilience are their parents who are characterised as ‘lawnmower parents’ who remove all obstacles so their children don’t have to deal with them themselves. Many members of Generation Z have never encountered the concept of struggling prior to entering Higher Education. This can mean that they need to develop problem solving skills and are unfamiliar with navigating ambiguity. It doesn’t mean that they can’t develop those skills just that they haven’t yet had the opportunity. Their social awareness can be harnessed to help develop their problem solving skills through competitions, community challenges and encouragement to help address social needs.

It is also reported that Generation Z’s attention span is lower than that of millennials (12 seconds) at just 8 seconds but that they are skilled multi-taskers often working across a number of devices simultaneously. This has implications for the traditional lecture style of delivery and reinforces the move towards active and blended learning taking place across the Higher Education sector and in the delivery and examination of the ACA.

This generation are also more instrumental, often seeing education as a means to a good job. To capture their attention we need to draw clear linkages between the curriculum and the world of work by bringing it to life through interesting and relevant case studies, live challenge projects and guest lectures. They are also keen to undertake internships and other forms of applied learning. This may make them more predisposed to undertaking degree Apprenticeships and alternative routes to professional qualification.

For those who are interested in reading more about Generation Z, I’ve listed some references below:

Ipsos Mori (2019). Generation Z- Beyond binary: new insights into the next generation

Parry, E., & Battista, V. (2019). Generation Z in the UK: More of the Same–High Standards and Demands. Generations Z in Europe (The Changing Context of Managing People), Emerald Publishing Limited, 89-107.

Seemiller, C., & Grace, M. (2017). Generation Z: Educating and engaging the next generation of students. About Campus22(3), 21-26.

Seemiller, C., & Grace, M. (2016). Generation Z goes to college. John Wiley & Sons.