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What comes after Y?

Generation Z

by Ginger Wheeler

If the thought of going through the process of hiring and grooming new people to continue the forward momentum you’ve built for your organization is akin to heading off to the dentist for a root canal, just wait. Because if you thought taming Generation Y – the Millennial generation – was a challenge, now you’ve got Generation Z to contend with as your future employees.

Generation Z – the cohort born between 1995/1997 and roughly 2009/2010 – are starting to enter the workforce. Yes, they are already18 to 20 years old, officially. And while you thought you were getting to know and understand your younger employees’ quirks, behaviors and world views so you could train and mold them into the employees you need, Generation Y was just the beginning. Everything Generation Y is, Generation Z is, but more. However, there are some marked differences that you as an employer could capitalize on, once you learn their characteristics.

Generation Z, unlike its Millennial predecessor, does not have its official nickname yet. Human resources professionals have suggested names like iGeneration, Digital Generation or, more ominously, the Silent Generation, but nothing has really stuck yet. This generation is comprised of the babies who thought pressing their finger on a picture in a paper book would make it “do” something like the animation on their mom’s iPad.

These 23 million youth have grown up with their noses in their cell phones or other mobile devices and most likely learned to swipe before they uttered their first words.
Some may think they are “silent,” but with technology as their first language, they are anything but. They are making plenty of noise. Even more than their Millennial older sibs, Generation Z is online, on social media and texting each other at lightning speed. Their communication is like a dog whistle or whale song: it’s a frequency adults can’t hear but it’s there all the same. But what does it mean?

If the Millennials were Generation Me, pampered and praised and awarded trophies for simply signing up for the team, the Zs are even more so. This is an individualistic cohort with its own persona. Generation Z is a generation of self-branders. If Generation Y was praised as a group, Generation Zs are praised as individuals. They expect to be treated like the individuals they are, not as some mass. With nearly four in five using social networks and 96 percent using the Internet at least monthly, nearly half buy that special thing just for them online. They are used to broadcasting what they like/want/need and insuring everyone knows their own personal preferences and choices. This is natural for them.

It’s a group that would rather meet via group text message than in person. You see them sitting in groups on the train/bus/airport, each with their own device. They are texting, not talking, even though they are sitting next to each other. They are a people whose verbal communication skills are not the same as the generations who preceded them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t share. Indeed, they care even more than the Millennials about finding and sharing the best things in the world with each other. It’s not about the brand, it’s about the product now.

From brand advertising to math lessons, everything is even more bite-sized for this group. Smaller, faster and slicker, they are accustomed to learning via video games and the Internet. Facts are something they know where to find, not necessarily memorize. Educators have adapted to this learning style and teachers are delivering education in smaller, more compact and more frequent doses. It’s all on the iPad.

The education they have received may be short of facts, but it’s long on critical thinking and problem solving. Also, it’s been shown this cohort may put off going to college right after high school. Whether due to the economic meltdown their parents have endured, the rising costs of college or the fact that the generation before them went to college and are still waiting tables, this may be good news for industrial distributors.
For industrial distributors who want to attract the best and brightest of the youngest generation in the workforce, knowing you’ve got a problem-solving, tech-savvy bunch graduating from high schools and entering the workforce now means you may get first dibs. On-the-job training may be more appealing than college to this group.

Also, unlike their job-hopping predecessors, we believe Gen Z is more apt to stick around. They are a loyal bunch, once loyalty has been proven to them. Due to the economic situation they’ve endured with their parents this past decade, they tend to be more traditional and will stay closer to home. Also, they’ve seen the pain job loss has caused their Gen X parents and are more likely to stick with a company that shows them some love.

How to capitalize? Host company tours and attend high school and middle school career fairs to show off your business to youngsters and their influencers (parents and teachers). This group puts even greater emphasis on the direction and guidance of these mentors than Millennials, so it might be wise to attract the adults as well as the kids in this case. Invite potential employees and their influencers in to see the company and meet the staff. Plan for internships so you can try out some Gen Z prospective employees and they can try out you.

Once they’ve proven themselves in your organization, and you believe they have leadership potential, perhaps you could offer the carrot of helping to pay for college. Or, if your newest, youngest employee demonstrates good work skills but proves to be lacking in basic product knowledge, a little training will go a long way with this cohort. Just remember: small doses and shiny bites. Make it fun and you’ll have a loyal employee who will also bring his/her friends to the party. It’s just going to be via text.

Ginger WheelerGinger Wheeler is director, marketing & communications for Industrial Careers Pathway (ICP) and the PTDA Foundation. She can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2015 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2015, Direct Business Media.

1995-1997 (possibly incliding '98)
Posted from: Braedyn, 5/9/16 at 1:07 AM CDT
I was born in 1996. I would argue that those born from 1995 to 1997 and maybe 1998 belong to a unique generation themselves. My peers and I grew up when technology was still a couple years in the horizon. I grew up on books, playing outside, corded phones, waiting for the T.V. guide to come in the newspaper, memorizing the kids channels, playing with toy cars, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, Boy Meets World. Among other things, I feel we put our roots down in the practical world, and very shortly after began to adapt with the explosion of technology. I grew up on VHS, and remember the failure of DivX, and then the revolution of DVD. I have a younger sister who was born in 2001, and she definitely got a different upbringing than me. She had DVD's, she got knew of touchscreen phones at 5 when I knew of them at 11. They were a revolution to me, they were the norm to her. Even my sister born in 1998 feels somewhat disconnected or less nostalgic about certain things that 95-97ers feel very strongly about. It just seems to me that we are a transitional generation. We talk about wishing things were less technology driven like when we were younger, the younger kids would die without their technology. There is even a gap in personality traits that I feel is directly related to how much technological socialization the '98 and up kids have experienced and how much younger they experienced it than my group. I know this may seem to play into the me me me argument of Gen Z, as if I have to find a way to make myself feel more special, but it's more a hope to separate from the younger ones that I feel are much more attached to technology than I, so attached that it is a fundemental part of how they came to be who they are. I feel that more of who I am came from the early part of my life where I had to go outside to find something to do, or wait for 3 minutes while the VHS rewound, or having my day made when we got to go to the local ma and pop movie rental store. Maybe it was running around the neighborhood with the older kids launching action figures on bottle rockets, or wishing I was good enough to hacky sack too. A great myriad of things that I feel led to a much different upbringing than my younger sisters, with their earliest years defined by the games on moms phone, or their DS, or saving those three minutes with the DVD rather than a VHS.

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