Older, more experienced people are always more or less annoyed by the attitudes and behavior of each successive new young generation. New, young employees are, by definition, less experienced and, therefore, lacking in the corresponding maturity and patience. As they step into the adult world with energy and enthusiasm, young workers often clash with their older colleagues. That’s always part of the story. But there is something much bigger going on here.
On a macro level, Generation Z represents a tipping point in the post-Boomer generational shift transforming the workforce. With older (first-wave) Boomers now retiring in droves, they are taking with them the last vestiges of the old-fashioned work ethic. By 2020, more than 80 percent of the workforce, including a great number of loss prevention job openings, will be post-Boomer dominated in numbers, norms, and values by Generations X, Y, and Z. Generation Z will be greater than 20 percent of the North American and European workforce (and a much greater percentage in younger parts of the world, especially South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America).
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Much of why Generation Z seems like a new species from another planet is really just an accident of history. They just happen to be the generation to come of age in the 2010s, during an era of profound change and uncertainty driven by a confluence of epic historical forces.
Globalization. Generation Z will be the first truly global generation—connecting and traveling to work across borders in every direction and combination. Unlike any other generation in history, Gen Z can look forward to a lifetime of interdependency and competition with a rising global youth-tide from every corner of this ever-flattening world.
Technology. The pace of technological advance today is unprecedented. Information. Computing. Communication. Transportation. Commerce. Entertainment. Food. Medicine. War. In every aspect of life, anything can become obsolete any time—possibilities appear and disappear swiftly, radically, and often without warning.
Institutional Insecurity. Gen Zers were small children on 9/11 and young teenagers when the economy collapsed in 2008. Theirs is a world threatened by terrorism and environmental cataclysm in which the economy fluctuates wildly from boom to bust, governments sometimes shut down or run out of money, and great companies conquer or fail or merge or continually downsize, restructure, and re-engineer. Institutions in every domain have been forced into a constant state of flux just in order to survive and succeed in this constantly changing world. Gen Zers know enough to know that they can’t rely on institutions to be the anchors of their success and security.
The Information Environment. Gen Zers are the first true “digital natives.” They learned how to think, learn, and communicate in a never-ending ocean of information. Theirs is an information environment defined by wireless Internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, infinite content, and immediacy. From a dangerously young age, their infinite access to information and ideas and perspectives—unlimited words, images, and sounds—is completely without precedent.
Human Diversity. In every dimension, the world is becoming more diverse and more integrated. Generation Z will be the most diverse workforce in history, by far. That’s true in terms of geographical point of origin, ethnic heritage, ability/disability, age, language, lifestyle preference, sexual orientation, color, size, and every other way of categorizing people. For one thing, the Generation Z workforce filling the next round of loss prevention job openings will include a global mix like never before. Equally important, Gen Zers look at every single individual—with his/her own combination of background, traits, and characteristics—in his or her own unique diversity story. They value difference, uniqueness, and customization, most of all their own.
This article was excerpted from “The Soft Skills Gap and Generation Z,” which was originally published in LP Magazine in the January-February 2016 issue. This article was updated January 19, 2017.