Gen Z and the U.S. Workforce: 5 Things You Should Know

As pundits analyze Millennials to death, Gen Z is growing up under our noses. In fact, in the next four years 30% of Generation Z is expected to be employed. As they trickle into the workforce, it's wise to begin discussing what unique traits, skills and values they will contribute to the workforce.

Introducing Generation Z


Let's start with defining Generation Z (Gen Z), which refers to the group of people born after the Millennial Generation (born between 1981 and 2000). Unfortunately, there is no agreed upon range of birth dates defining this generation yet.

Gen Z's name is also sometimes in question. This generation can be referred to as iGen or @generation due to their status as full digital natives, or as the Pluralist Generation due to their larger than ever ethnic diversity.

The Generation X Parent


When examining Gen Z characteristics, it's interesting to note that their parents are mostly from Generation X. Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) grew up as latchkey kids due to high divorce rates, saw the Challenger explosion, and witnessed Watergate. Because of these events and more, they often feel they can't trust the government, the corporate world, or their families from disintegrating before their eyes, a belief that leaves them self-sufficient and pragmatic. They are also distrustful of hierarchy.

As parents, they are older, more likely to be divorced, and work outside the home. In addition, there are more same-sex parents than ever before, families are smaller, and women are more often the family breadwinners. Here's one thing that'll make employers cheer: they don't agree with the parenting style where everybody wins!

Check out this chart from The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century*, by Magid Generational Strategies, which shows some major differences between Baby Boomer and Gen X parenting, which will influence Gen Z as they develop into adults.

In addition to their parents, world events are shaping who they are. Gen Z has been growing up in a post-9/11 world of terror alerts, warnings about Global Warming, an economic crisis, and instant access to limitless information due to technology. How will all of these factors influence Gen Z?

Let's take a look at five things unique to Generation Z and how that might affect our future workforce.

Five Things to Know About Generation Z


1.   Gen Z Is More Diverse Than Any Generation


Census data says that there will be
. within the next ten to thirty years. Generation Z reflects this demographic shift. Frank N. Magid estimates that Gen Z is 55% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 14% African American, 4% Asian and 4% mixed race or other. He also states that Gen Z exhibits
about ethnic diversity in the U.S. and is more likely than older generations to have social circles that include different ethnic groups, races, and religions.

Though the U.S. is still lagging behind on eliminating bias in the workplace, Gen Z is poised to instigate change. They celebrate diversity and will be far less tolerant of a workplace where only 21 people of color are CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. If organizations want longevity with Gen Z employees, they need to address any bias and discrimination in their workplace culture now.


2. Financial Stability Is Important to Gen Z


To understand Gen Z's perspective on finances, look at their parents. Gen X is the first generation in American history to have less money than their parents. They are very practical and have lived through the second worst economic decline in American history. So it makes sense that Gen Z will be taught by their parents that financial stability is important. They may also see it themselves watching their parents struggle through the aftermath of the mass layoffs and rampant foreclosures of 2008.

With Gen Z focused on financial stability, we can surmise that they will differ from Millennials when it comes to taking long stretches of time between jobs to travel. However, this doesn't mean that they will be reverting back to the good old nine-to-five life.

3. Gen Z Will Work Differently


Gen Z will continue the huge trend (53 million and growing) towards freelancing, viewing themselves as professional, permanent freelancers. This makes sense with the future of work trending
. Generation Z will likely be part of teams that are put together and then dismantled when the project is compete. And since this generation is used to information coming at them from all angles due to technology, they will be experts in managing multiple projects and plans.

4. Gen Z Is the Most Information Intensive Generation of All Time


In fact, they aren't just used to having massive amounts of information hurled at them--they are actually skilled at processing it. While we say that Millennials are digital natives, Gen Z is even more so. Millennials can remember a time before iPhones but Gen Z cannot. They haven't lived in a world that didn't provide them with constant opportunity to access information. With their fully integrated use of technology, they are actually preparing themselves to perform mentally demanding jobs.

There is even a scientific theory behind this ability. In New York magazine, Sam Anderson describes how the brain is designed to change based on experience, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. He cites how in London, taxi drivers have enlarged hippocampi, which is a neural reward for paying attention to the city's many winding streets.

It's hypothesized that as we become more skilled in moving through bits of information rapidly (as Gen Z is), the wiring of our brains will inevitably change to be more effective with more information. Neuroscientist Gary Small speculates that the human brain might be changing faster today than ever before (besides maybe when we discovered tools!).

5. Gen Z Will Be Educated Differently


As our brains evolve, will education also evolve? For Generation Z the answer is yes. Partially because Gen X is comfortable working outside the system, homeschooling is increasing for Gen Z. With this alternative schooling also comes a departure from the idea that college is the only path to a successful career.

This generation has access to massive open online courses (MOOCs), and can therefore take classes from Ivy League institutions in their living room, at absolutely no cost. With the amount of information Gen Z has access to and the willingness of their parents to look into alternative education models, this generation will lead by example in showing that brick-and-mortar schools aren't always necessary for personal success.

This diverse generation may show up without traditional degrees, but they will be armed with massive amounts of information. With much of Gen Z still being extremely young, more trends will likely develop before the entirety of the generation reaches working age. However, regardless of when and how they join the workforce, Gen Z is bound to shake things up.

Have you noticed characteristic trends of Generation Z? Can you think of anything that will greatly influence them as they grow up? I'd love to hear your ideas. Please leave me a comment below, send me an email, or find me on Twitter.

Check out *"The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century," by Magid Generational Strategies here.

Anne Loehr is a sought after keynote speaker, writer, consultant and trainer. She helps leaders in large organizations connect their everyday decisions today to the future workplace. Her end goal is to help organizations retain their top talent and not only survive, but thrive. To learn more about Anne, check out Anneloehr.com or follow her on Twitter.