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This year’s public health crisis has reoriented our relationships with each other, the media, technology and the work we do. Humanity has never experienced such a swift and universal shift.
The return back to “normal,” will change education, jobs and industries. But perhaps the biggest changes will affect the future workforce, Generation Z. Gen Z (those born after 1998) grew up in a post-9/11 world and during the Great Recession. Now, during the most formative time of their lives, they face a challenge like no generation before them. This unprecedented event will have an indelible influence on their behaviors, decisions and expectations.
Despite many headlines about how younger generations are disregarding the threat of the health crisis, 93 percent of Gen Z and millennials are being impacted by its spread. Additionally, 74 percent of middle and high school students have stopped going to school. “Anxious” and “cautious” are the top two emotions that Gen Z and millennials report feeling right now.
9/11 changed airports and travel forever, and this crisis will change the workforce. Here are eight ways that will happen.
1. Deeper dependence on technology
While humanity strives to create physical distance from each other, the world turns to digital platforms and tools to remain socially connected. Established generations forced to connect digitally are now discovering that technology has gotten a lot easier to use while they were ignoring it. And if Gen Z wasn’t already using their phone to pay for groceries, coffee or lunch they are now due to social distancing.
Established generations’ newfound appreciation for technology (e.g. the ease of using technology to work remotely) coupled with Gen Z’s existing digital intelligence will escalate the adoption rate of new technology at work.
2. Unconventional educational backgrounds
Due to the crisis, 290 million students around the world and 4.9 million U.S. students are impacted by school closures. Forced into virtual learning, teachers find themselves in unfamiliar territory as 70 percent of teachers have never taught a virtual course. Yet students find themselves in very familiar (and often preferred) territory as 62 percent of Gen Z would choose no college degree and unlimited Internet access over a college degree and no Internet access.
In addition, only 26 percent of Gen Z perceive education as a barrier to workplace success and 90 percent of employers say they are more open to accepting nontraditional candidates who don’t hold four-year college degrees.
As long-held beliefs of higher education begin to erode for students, parents and employers, expect the future workforce to have unconventional educational backgrounds with a constellation of nano-degrees, certifications and digital portfolios that better position them to thrive in tomorrow’s high-flux marketplace.
3. Entering careers sooner
Because there are more college alternatives available today than ever before, Gen Z might consider forgoing a traditional college education entirely to go work for a company that provides college-like learning and development. In fact, 62 percent of Gen Z are open to the idea of entering the workforce before completing a college degree according to Generation Z: A Century in the Making by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace.
Jenn Prevoznik, the Global Head of Early Talent Acquisition at SAP, says she is “all for” Gen Z skipping college to come to work for SAP, because their skills and willingness to learn matter more than their degree.
4. Enhanced value on learning and development
When Gen Z enters the workforce sooner than previous generations or with an unconventional educational background, they will be looking to their employer to provide the necessary training to gain the hard and soft skills they need. Eighty-four percent of Americans say their career path will be significantly different from their parents. The idea of working at one company, in one industry or in one role is old-fashioned, especially for the future workforce.
Employers who deliver learning experiences that Gen Z actually uses, enjoys and applies will win over the future workforce.
5. Revised view of employers
Before now, work and life were blending like never before. Because of mobile technology, workers were bringing more work home and more life to work. Workplaces became workspaces. And now, work and life have fully merged.
For Gen Z, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish where work stops and where life starts, so to them it’s all just life. Work and life are in harmony.The future workplace isn’t where work happens, it’s where life happens. Expect Gen Z to view their employers as a community of support, wellness and education.
6. Uncommon career paths
Gen Z service workers are losing more work hours than any other demographic, and 29 percent of Gen Z workers (18 to 24 years old) have been put on leave compared to only 13 percent of other generations.
Given these numbers, it’s not surprising that Gen Z is interested in diversifying their sources of income. In fact, given a choice, 53 percent of Gen Z would rather work a gig job than a full-time job and 46 percent of Gen Z are already participating in the gig economy. As work cycles spin faster and faster — truncating the need for full-time employees — and gig work becomes more accessible and lucrative, expect uncommon career paths to be commonplace for the future workforce.
7. Demand for emotionally intelligent leaders
In addition to being a highly anxious and stressed generation, Gen Z is also the loneliest generation. More than half of Gen Zers identify with 10 of the 11 feelings associated with loneliness. The most common feelings experienced by Gen Z are feeling like people around them are not really with them (69 percent), feeling shy (69 percent), and feeling like no one really knows them well (68 percent).
After this time of uncertainty and social isolation passes, Gen Z will thrive from the connection, assurance and empathy delivered by emotionally intelligent leaders.
8. Greater global unity
Not only has Gen Z grown up gaming in real-time with strangers from around the world, but they’re now also experiencing a global health crisis together. The number of Gen Zers who identify more as a global citizen than as a citizen of their country (42 percent) is likely to increase considering that shared hardship bonds people together.
The future workforce will have a greater sense of global unity and as a result will demand more diversity and inclusion from their employers and leaders.