Amidst fast technological change, constant disruption and the ever-growing digital skills gap, what will Gen Z bring to the tech industry? Georgie Barrat explores.
Type the word ‘millennials’ into Google and you’ll be greeted with a scathing stereotype. “Brash”, “narcissistic”, “job-hopping”, “self-entitled”, are just some of the characteristics that, unfairly or not, have been assigned to this generation.
Despite the unflattering portrayal, the tech sector has an especially keen interest in Generation Y. Born broadly between 1980 and 1994, they are the first generation that has grown up with computers and are the pioneers of technological change, counting the likes of Mark Zuckerberg amongst them.
With the digital skills gap becoming ever increasingly acute, how to attract, retain and communicate with millennials has become an industry obsession.
A new cohort
That, however, may soon change. A whole new cohort is coming of age – Generation Z. This generation, the oldest of which are around 22, is increasingly shunning the expense of University and heading straight into the workplace.
Permanently switched on, multi-tasking on multi-screens, this subset is primed to become the next dominant workforce in the tech sector.
Executives may have spent the last decade trying to work in harmony with millennials, now they must acclimatise to the younger and even larger Generation Z. So how will this new cohort behave?
While there are clear limitations to shoehorning millions of people into an archetype, there are some key cultural distinctions that forecasters are beginning to pinpoint.
The first one, and most fundamental to the tech industry, is that they are true digi-natives.
While millennials may have grown-up on a diet of MSN and iPods, this younger cohort can’t remember a time before smartphones. Technology isn’t a brand name or destination (“the internet”), it just is.
A recent study by Lucozade dubbed them “self-starters, not selfie-takers”. Technology has enabled them to create brands, sell products and self-publish books, all from the comfort of their bedrooms. Combine this self-propelling creativity with their digital insight and coding skills, and you get an explosive formula, ripe for creating, making and inventing.
This mindset spells good news when it comes to finding talent to fill the UK’s digital skills black hole. However, it does come with other drawbacks.
“The fact that they want to do things on their terms will drive culture change, but they need to be careful they don’t place too much pressure and demand on businesses,” warns Laura Stembridge, founder of the millennial networking platform Jambo.
“If they’re on their phones for half an hour a day and want flexible working
hours, there could become a point when business will say, ‘enough is enough’.”
A trope that often rears itself when talking about millennials is their air of self-entitlement. Commentators blame their mollycoddled 90’s upbringing for giving them lofty and idealistic goals.
“Millennials got so many participation trophies growing up that a recent study showed that 40% believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance,” wrote Joel Stein in a contentious Time magazine article.
A pragmatic approach
While this may be a reductive stereotype and, according to Hudson’s ‘Great Generational Shift’ report, in fact just misunderstood ambition, what is evident is that Generation Z’s upbringing was markedly different in comparison.
Gen Z-ers’ formative years were shaped by the credit crunch, war and social unrest across the globe. While millennials bemoan their lack of property ownership and secure paid jobs, Gen Z have a pragmatic acceptance of their career prospects, knowing nothing can be taken for granted.
Growing up on shaky economic grounds has resulted in Gen Z placing more value on personal satisfaction than material success. A recent survey conducted by Monster and YouGov found the younger 18 – 25-year-old bracket was more interested in working for a nonprofit, while Net Impact’s research revealed that 60% of those asked, were willing to accept a smaller salary in order to work for an employer with shared values.
Insisting on more purposeful connections between employees and businesses will have the added benefit of staff retention. According to a Deloitte study, two of every three millennials hope to move on from their current employer by 2020, continuously hunting for bigger and better jobs.
If businesses are forced to establish a better work culture, they may be able to slow down millennials’ frenetic job-hopping. As 21-year-old Bejay Mulenga, founder of social enterprise Supa Academy, put it: “Your vibe attracts your tribe – companies need to think about why people are moving on and invest more in creating an environment that people want to work in.”
Tech startups have cottoned onto this already, taking time to establish their community and workforce. “We ensure we hire a good fit for our culture, our values and our vision,” explained Rishi Chowdhury, co-founder of IncuBus, a mentorship programme for late stage startups.
If a company matches someone’s values and offers flexible working hours, the boundaries between work and downtime become blurred. This blending of the work/life balance may prove problematic for Gen Z’s, who are entering the workplace for the first time.
“If you’re looking for a young developer you’re probably going to bring them from outside London, therefore these graduates aren’t just starting a new job, they’re in a big city for the first time,” said Mulenga.
“They’re partying hard, under pressure at work and watching Game of Thrones late at night. This can have a big impact on their mental health. There needs to be a check-in process. Look after them,” he urged.
Welcoming Gen Z into the workplace will mark a new era of four generations working together. While careful intergenerational management may be needed, the diversity this younger cohort will bring will help tech businesses thrive.
“Ultimately the greater diversity an organisation has in the makeup of its workforce, the better equipped the organisation is to respond to the diverse threats and opportunities it faces,” noted Dr Tim Sparkes, business psychologist at Hudson.
Generation Z will not only bring that diversity to the tech industry, but this savvy and connected generation look set to disrupt it entirely.
This article first appeared in edition 12 of Tech City News popular tech magazine – the PropTech issue.