They’re a mysterious and demographically challenged generation, one that no observer seems to be able to really pin down in a single, satisfactory explanation. One thing is for sure, though: They’re going to be a critical part of organizations’ future success.
I’m not talking about Generation X, although this description certainly applies to them as well. I’m actually referring to what’s been called “Generation Z,” a group that – according to the earliest estimates – began coming into the world around the very end of the 20th century. (Side note: What’s the deal with every post-boomer generation getting assigned a letter of the alphabet? And what are the people who dream these things up going to do about the generation that comes after “Z”? Start back at the beginning with “A”?)
Anyway, Generation Z merits a mere two-line entry in Wikipedia, which doesn’t say much about who they really are. (It does note that Generation Z comes directly after Generation Y. Thanks for that insight, Wikipedia!) Granted, much of their apparent mysteriousness may have to do with the fact that there probably isn't a whole lot to say about this group at present. After all, the oldest of them are only now turning 10 (or 9, or 8 … as with Generation X, no one seems to agree on their birth years).
The entry does note that, “In the same way lack of memory of the Cold War is a defining characteristic of Generation Y, a lack of memory before the War on Terror defines Generation Z.” Assuming we can accept this claim as fact (and it is somewhat debatable), is there anything else we can determine about this group?
Absolutely! For instance, much has been made of the technical proficiency of Generation Y/millennial cohort. This is hard to argue with, but if Gen Y is indisputably at home with technology, think about how much more so Gen Z will be. Whereas Gen Y grew up during the dawn of the public Internet, Gen Z is now growing up with widespread broadband access; mass consumption of video, audio and games over the Web; and truly immersive online environments. Forget digital natives. These guys will be virtual natives.
In spite of that similarity, the generation they might have the most in common with is Generation X. After all, Gen X is characterized as being receptive to new technology as well. Additionally, Generation Z’s natal and early childhood years have been characterized by a controversial war, skyrocketing oil costs, generally high price inflation and (perhaps consequently) falling birth rates. If that doesn’t sound like the late 1960s through the late 1970s, I don’t know what does.
Of course, it’s impossible to conclude exactly how they’ll turn out. Generation Z will have their own unique life experiences to shape their own values and interests. But for people who make their living off of figuring out what’s next in talent, it’s never too early to start thinking about who will be coming into their organizations in the years to come.