Tuning Your Learning Activities to The Expectations of Tomorrow’s Gen-Z Workforce

• 6 min read

Millennials made the need for learning technology clear – Gen-Z will push you to perfect how it’s used to retain and engage new workers.

A few months ago, we discussed the idea that in less than two years, your entire learning program could be obsolete. But it won’t be because the learning technology used to power existing Learning and Development strategies will fail to adapt (actually, advances in learning technology will make sure this doesn’t happen).

Instead, the way enterprise learning programs will be shaped over the next few years will be in response to a generational shift, one in which a new cohort of fresh-faced and bright minds will enter the workforce, forcing organizations to re-think what’s important when it comes to linking professional development to organizational performance. 

And no, we’re not talking about Millennials – by today’s standards, they’re old news. There’s a new generation that demands our focus and attention – one that, by 2020, will make up 20% of the global workforce

Generation Z, or Gen-Z, is defined (loosely) as the generation born between 1996 and 2011, and currently makes up about 25% of the world’s population. Millions are now entering the workforce, with another 60 million or so to follow over the next two decades. This new cohort is guaranteed to be more influential and disruptive than the Millennials they’ll eventually report to, and are guaranteed to place a heavy emphasis on not only the purpose of enterprise learning, but also the technology used to deliver it. 

“Other than paying down student debt, opportunities for growth and development

in the workplace are a top concern for Gen-Z – even more so than salary…”

Source: Adecco Staffing USA 

While close in age to Millennials, Gen-Z’ers are profoundly different when it comes to the characteristics they value in the workplace. Research by Accenture suggests Gen-Z demonstrates a return to more traditional workplace values, similar to those expressed by Gen X and Baby Boomers, such as a desire for workplace stability and job security. Gen-Z prefers dynamic and fast-moving work environments, and they expect to spend more time at work, with the majority of them recognizing that, to do their jobs effectively, they’ll need to spend more than the traditional 40-hour work week in the office.

Gen-Z is a Tech-Hungry Bunch – And Who Can Blame Them?

A study by Wikia reveals that 76% of Gen-Z’ers believe technology will help them reach their goals, while more than two-thirds think it will empower them to do anything they so please career-wise.

And this makes sense, considering Gen-Z is the world’s first truly digitally-native generation, having grown up surrounded by smartphones, touch-screens, voice-activated AI, and social media. Compared to their parents who could have only imagined these things to be a reality in the futuristic dystopia brought to the silver screen in films like ‘Blade Runner’.

Ironically, tech-charged Gen-Z will start to make a real impact on the workforce in 2019, the year in which Ridley Scott’s 1982 film was set… 

Connecting With Gen-Z Learners 

Connecting with Gen-Z is recognizing who they are and understanding that what they offer to your workforce is unique. It is, however, important to remember that it’s not in your best interest to assume everything they want is new and flashy. Instead, it’s more about gathering a genuine understanding of what makes them tick, and the value those interests can bring to your organization if respected. 

Gen-Z’s core values may be surprising, considering many of them relate more to older generations than the Millennials much closer in age:

  • They’re frugal
  • They value social equality
  • They feed on innovation, uniqueness and originality, and are confident in knowing what makes them special (they want to know why your organization is special, too).

From a learning perspective, connecting with Gen-Z requires Learning and Development activities that:

  • Leverage mixed media and stimulating messages
  • Provide a flexible approach to learning (and use technology to give Gen-Z that flexibility to learn when, where and how they want it)
  • Give them the freedom of self-study and autonomy
  • Encourage collaboration and human connections
  • Keep their attention with bite-sized learning content, similar to that of their social media feeds
  • Is accessible, no matter where they are, no matter the platform they choose (that means a focus on mobile learning is essential)

Gen-Z Has a Penchant For Community And Collaboration 

As mentioned earlier, Gen-Z is the first truly digitally native generation. They’ve grown up with smartphones, social media and online gaming as part of their everyday lives. These technologically-driven factors have turned them into an incredibly social bunch, who value the collaborative communities they’ve played a part in building. In fact, Gen Z workers consider co-workers who like to collaborate as the type of colleague who would help them do their best work.

They’re also entrepreneurial, especially as it relates to content creation. From a social media perspective, Gen-Z is the fuel powering the engines of industry heavyweights such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. The Millennial and Gen-Z powered generational switch that has enabled YouTube to overtake traditional television and exposed these youngsters to real-world, self-made stars.  They earned their celebrity status (and accompanying wealth in some cases) with little more than a smartphone and an internet connection.

Companies that are successful in attracting, retaining and developing this new cohort are those that leverage the collaborative revolution Gen-Z is enabling, and provide the technology, tools and processes they need, not just to facilitate it, but encourage it as a vehicle for personal, professional and organizational development.

Centralizing, Measuring and Analyzing Informal Learning Will Become More Important Than Ever 

A study from Wikia and Ipsos MediaCT reveals that more than 60% of Gen-Z’ers share knowledge online, in the form of YouTube videos, blog entries, or Medium articles. Again, this is the result of an incredible appetite for collaboration and continuous improvement.

Better yet, this entrepreneurial and curious crew are also hands-on, and more than willing to get their hands dirty, creating content, and then analyzing the processes used to create that content and seek out way to perfect it next time. The proliferation of technology, particularly on the mobile front, are enabling Gen-Z’ers to fail early and often, but also learn from those failures and build on them until they master any concept.

From an enterprise learning perspective, this means that successful learning companies in the Gen-Z era are those that embrace and enable social learning or informal learning. Consider the popularity of video games, such as Fortnite by Epic Games. The game is insanely popular since it relies primarily on social gaming and the need for team collaboration to ensure a victory – Gen-Z’ers crave these kinds of environments where they can be hands-on and directly involved in the learning process – especially if these learning opportunities are enabled by technology that’s available any time, anywhere.

Harnessing the potential of these social and informal learning opportunities will require organizations to ensure their learning platform is up to the task and able to centralize informally and socially produced content (generally in the flow of work) so that it is used most effectively. Further, as Artificial Intelligence (AI) deepens its roots in enterprise learning technology, user-generated content will become even more valuable in supporting formal training initiatives and playing a valuable role in the effectiveness of personalized learning. In today’s enterprise learning environment, the level of personalization in an employee’s learning plan can be the make or break point between retaining and losing talent. By allowing employees to provide their inputs into these plans, this allows organizations to leverage and understand the skills they already have and identify ones they need to work on.

Gen-Z is an Exciting Challenge: Embrace Change, Build in Adaptability 

Indeed, there’s likely a number of managers wary of this next generation. There is, however, a case to be made that this wariness is the result of difficulties created by past generations – yes, we’re talking about those instant gratification-craving, authority-resistant Millennials. Gen-Z will most definitely encourage change in the delivery of your Learning and Development programs, but they’ll also be able to play a much more valuable role in guiding its effectiveness because they’re more willing to contribute to it. Leverage their inherent tech-savviness as best you can and enable opportunities for social and collaborative learning by giving them the tools to make it happen.

Gen-Z is an exciting new challenge in the world of corporate learning. But, it’s one that’s guaranteed to be well worth the effort to master.

If you’re interested in understanding how to tune your learning activities to the expectations of Gen-Z, Docebo is excited to sponsor an upcoming webinar with E-Learning Industry on December 11 at 11 AM EST. Hosted by Docebo’s Caitlyn Ludwig, Enterprise Learning Consultant, the webinar will cover exciting insights including:

  • Factors L&D leaders must consider when designing learning programs for Gen-Z
  • Social and informal learning metrics that can help you guide the effectiveness of your L&D programs
  • How your learning platform can help you make the most of informally produced user-generated content
  • The role Artificial Intelligence will play in the development of personalized learning

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!