They are the new rulers of the world, making up over 50 per cent of the global population. Generation Z – roughly defined as people born between 1995 and 2010 – are the first truly digital natives.
The internet is woven into their lives, and they came of age in the world of Instagram, Snapchat – and the latest app to worry parents Tellonym.
They are ambitious but not ruthless, full of youthful idealism, health conscious and determined to make a difference.
This is the generation that is currently making its way through secondary school and dominating third-level.
How has the education system responded to their needs, and how will they dictate the workplace of the future? We spoke to a panel of young people and experts.
How Generation Z differs
Sinead D'Arcy, head of the international graduate programme at Jameson, is hiring newly-minted graduates, and is well-placed to see the changes first hand.
“ Gen Z have an entrepreneurial spirit and are very autonomous. The majority want to make their hobby into their job.
“They’re not just mobile first – they’re mobile only and expect information to be at their fingertips. They don’t passively consume content, but create it: applying for a role with us, for instance, they submit a video. Significantly – and unlike millennials – they grew up in harder times. And they hugely value work-life balance or, as they refer to it, ‘work-life synergy’.”
Jean O'Brien, founder of Digital Charity Lab, which works with charities and non-profits to build digital skills, says despite perceptions to the contrary, research suggests that Gen Z are much more cautious about what they publicly post – unlike millennials. They are, however, expert in the medium.
"They may be less likely to be, for instance, on Facebook. I saw a lot of young people getting involved in the Repeal campaign, and was blown away by how dedicated they are, their confidence to speak up, and how adept they are at campaigning and crafting messages. The way they use humour to highlight hypocrisy is particularly strong."
D’Arcy also points out that while millennials grew up in a strong economy and knew they could job-hop, Gen Z has come of age in a much different era.
“They grew up during the recession, and saw family members move abroad for work. Gen Z may be more likely to stay with the same company, but they expect us to help them reinvent themselves as they progress in their career. They value job security. For employers this is a positive.”
Careers with meaning
Bella Gibney (18), a student at Newpark College in Blackrock, Dublin, is due to sit her Leaving Cert this year. She is not your ordinary student: Gibney intends to apply for circus school overseas, where she hopes to specialise in aerial silks. It sound exceptional, but she's similar to many Gen Zers in her determination to pursue her passion.
“I’ve been focused on a career in aerial silks for a few years, and this is my main passion. I’ve been thinking of something meaningful I can do for a long time.
“In school we’re really tapped into environmental and humanitarian issues, but I don’t know if I’d be the best person for those jobs. Yes, we do want to make a difference and don’t want to cause harm, but, like other generations, there are many who are focused on the best possible career for themselves and future families.”
Conor Walsh (25) agrees. He is an assistant brand manager with Jameson International, and is among the older cohort of Gen Zers.
“Happiness in whatever you do is extremely important for my generation. We want a job we love, not just one that pays the bills and nearly all my friends are working in an industry they are passionate about.
“I’ve noticed that both millennials and Gen Z want to build more sustainable worlds for the future. My generation expects a workplace that values its employees and is committed to the ongoing training and development of its workforce. And we’re not afraid to challenge our bosses if we feel it may not be the right decision.”
O’Brien says she has heard many younger candidates at interviews say that they are interested in jobs with meaning.
“Companies can attract them by supporting causes in a meaningful way, and this should be chosen in consultation with staff.”
Anxious and distracted
Gibney says the hunger for change comes from seeing the scale of injustice everywhere you look.
“Hearing about the state of the world and the rise of authoritarian leaders is very depressing. My classmates and I can feel powerless about inequality, but it often makes us want to change the world for the better.
“Instagram and the internet give us a constant feed of the world’s injustices. We are probably more anxious – I have had problems with anxiety as have many of my friends – and this can be caused by looking at each other’s curated lives on social media.
"Sometimes I think that we're not Generation Z: we're Generation Guinea Pig who have to go through life with the distraction of this tiny device. It's not like we can just give them up now. Phones are killing our attention spans but it can be hard to tear ourselves away from them: they're both the cause of, and solution to, many of our problems."
Reshaping the workplace
One of the biggest changes is that communicating with Gen Z is very different.
“The challenge…now is that channels are so fragmented: the whole nation doesn’t sit down and watch the same TV shows anymore, so communicators must target different channels to reach different audiences,” says O’Brien.
“It’s so important to tailor the message and make sure it’s delivered by the right messenger, because Gen Z are extremely media savvy and quick to spot inauthenticity.”
This, she says, extends to empty gestures around corporate social responsibility and other measures.
“Some companies ‘support charities’ by getting their staff to fund-raise, and contribute nothing themselves, which is a bit hollow. Non-profits sometimes struggle to offer career progression but we can offer exciting learning opportunities. If commercial companies and non-profits want to attract and keep the best younger talent, they should stop the practice of using unpaid internships.
“These act as a barrier for people from marginalised communities and it’s unacceptable that they’re used as an entry point into many charities. Young people are aware of how exploitative it is, and there’s a strong backlash brewing.”
Damien Clarke, founder of Zeminar, a wellbeing and education movement that caters for Generation Z and their parents and teachers, says this new generation isn't interested in simply showing up for classes or lecture.
“They expect to be fully engaged and a part of the learning process, and this is more of an opportunity than a challenge.
“Because they’re very tech-savvy, many schools are now using tablets instead of books; teachers and lecturers need to adapt to this new learning process.
“So, any organisation looking to recruit, engage and retain these generations will be hard-pressed if they aren’t incorporating emerging social and digital technologies into the workplace.”
GENERATION Z IN NUMBERS: 39 per cent say their phone is part of who they are 55 per cent agree that they feel anxious on a day-to-day basis 84 per cent say they are "more ambitious than their parents"