Forget Gen Y. Get Ready for Gen Z.

Randy Emelo
Written by
Randy Emelo

With Gen Z, Mentoring Makes Sense

Gen ZJust when we all finally think we have a handle on how to talk to, interact with, attract and retain Millennials into our workforce, the inevitable happens: A new generation comes of age.  Sorry, Millennials, but it looks like you may have some competition for that bright spotlight soon.  While Generation Z (loosely defined as people born between 1995 and today) may still have a few years before they begin to trickle into our corporate halls, they will be the next big generation to enter the workforce after the Millennials, or Gen Y as they are sometimes called.  If history has taught us anything, it’s that HR and L&D can be slow to adjust to changing needs of the workforce.  Hopefully, we can be better prepared for Gen Z and the changes they will inspire.

New studies have come out that show preliminary research on what to expect from this young generation.  While we are in the midst of making accommodations and preparing for more Millennial workers to enter the workforce in the very near future, it’s important that we also consider Gen Z’s attributes and qualities and begin thinking about how to create a future L&D environment that will capitalize on their strengths as well.  (And just think, those Millennials you are welcoming in your doors right now, could very well be the direct supervisors of the Gen Z workers when they make their debut.  What impact will that have on your L&D efforts?)

In many ways, Gen Z is an extension of the Millennial generation; however, they have more pronounced Gen Y characteristics, along with some distinctive qualities that are all their own.

Gen Z is innately reliant on technology.

Gen Z and technologyThese individuals have been using technology since infancy, from smart phones and tablets to computers, gaming consoles, and so on—and this will only increase with their age.  Just imagine the toddler who is spellbound by the iPad at the dinner table growing into the tween who doesn’t put the smartphone down.  However, unlike their Millennial and GenX counterparts, Gen Z will be “normal” users of technology, meaning they won’t necessarily be the most tech savvy when it comes to the programming behind the device, they just know how to play the game.  They don’t need to understand the logic or structure behind the technology to be able to use it effectively, much like most of us don’t know how to build a phone, but we all sure know how to dial and use one.  While HR and L&D leaders should be thinking how you can automate and use technology in your work process, structures, etc. to cater to Gen Z’s technological preferences, don’t expect this generation to be as technologically savvy or adept as previous generations.  They just want technology that is easy to use and will solve their problems, help coordinate their activities, or provide them with relevant people or information.

Gen Z is hyper-connected.

The connected quality of the Millennial generation will only be amplified by Gen Z.  These kids already are rampantly using social media to collaborate with one another.  According to a Baseline Magazine article by Dennis McCafferty, 93% of Gen Z visit YouTube at least once a week, 65% visit FaceBook once a week, and 26% visit Twitter once a week.  In fact, a recent Wikia study cited that 60% of Gen Z say they like to share their knowledge with others online.  This is a strong indicator that they will want access to collaborative learning opportunities and technologies once they have entered the workforce. Due to their abundant use of social media, this generation will likely approach learning and development in a networked fashion, much like the Millennial generation, so it makes sense to begin thinking about how to integrate mentoring and social learning elements into L&D practices.

Gen Z is increasingly “in the moment.”

Social mediaA Diveristy Executive article by Tamara Erikson on Gen Z explained that, “Re-gens (Gen Z) are conditioned to get to the right place at the right time—to be related and relevant—through technology.” This generation will spend way more time in the “relevant now,” leveraging relevant and appropriate information and knowledge that is dependent on what a particular moment dictates. This means that pre-scheduled and pre-planned learning activities (training, lectures, etc.) will be less effective in developing these individuals.  Gen Z will be much more likely to engage in ad hoc and on-demand learning and development activities, enabled by technology, that are related and relevant to the individual in that moment.  This generation will bring a whole new meaning to just-in-time learning.  They want their learning and development offerings to be delivered in the “right place, at the right time“ fashion, and they will be accustomed to self-sourcing information to help them with pertinent problems and issues.


If you think the world is already very mobile, think again: 57% of 8-17-year-olds already use their mobile phone more than once a day according to a recent study done by JWT.  Only trailing the Millennial generation in ownership, Gen Z is also the second largest demographic owning an iPhone.  (Keep in mind that most of these kids don’t have an income, so we can only assume that when Gen Z has more buying power, they will invest in mobile technology.)  Like these statistics suggest, Gen Z will be highly mobile and will demand learning and development opportunities that can support their free and nomadic nature.  It’s not out of the question to see the standard 9 to 5 desk job fade into an era defined by mobile work and supported by mobile corporate learning and development.

The bottom line: Like their Gen Y predecessors, Generation Z will rely on their network of relationships to help them facilitate their own professional learning and development and help them navigate through the corporate world.  As learning leaders, we need to consider Gen Z’s characteristics and take a critical look at our L&D programs, courses, materials, and the like to determine if our practices can accommodate the growing ranks of our multigenerational workforces.  If we’ve learned anything from the influx of Millennials, it’s that we better prepare for this now so that we can be ready for tomorrow.

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