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Meet Generation Z

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Generation Y will soon be yesterday’s news, pushed to the side by their younger brothers and sisters from Generation Z.

The Society of Human Resource Professionals is already putting a magnifying glass over the latter, whose oldest members are almost reaching drinking age.

During the group’s Talent Management Conference and Exposition in Orlando, Florida, Jeff Hiller, director of learning and development at Chicago-based JB Training Solutions, described some of the common personality traits of those who will soon be entering the job market.

According to Hiller, members of this generation tend to be skeptical and inclined to fact-check assertions. They grew up amidst economic turmoil brought on by the collapse of companies previously assumed to be invincible and watched their parents reel from foreclosures or other economic problems brought on by the financial crisis.

That is a marked contrast to the experience of millennials, who largely grew up in a prosperous economy and then experienced a downturn in early adulthood.

He also explained that Generation Z — also known as “globals” — were on track to be the most educated generation in U.S. history, with an average of 16 years of formal education. But, just like millennials, they’re going to be paying far more for it than their predecessors. They’ll be paying an average of $34,682 a year for college, compared to the already high $23,066 that the average millennial spent.

But, in keeping with their skeptical tendencies, there is nevertheless substantial evidence that globals are not sold on the value of higher education as much as millennials or Gen X-ers. A massive international survey conducted in February found that 60 percent of globals were open to the idea of doing job-based training instead of going on to an institution for higher learning.

That’s due to the ballooning cost of college as well as a sense that anybody with good ideas can make it in the online economy, with or without a diploma.

“There are a great many young people considering forgoing the traditional post-secondary education route in favor of less debt, more employer-sponsored training, and more employment opportunities,” said China Gorman, the interim CEO of SHRM.

Of course, those who do go to college will likely be on the lookout for employers offering opportunities to pay off their debt quickly, either through generous salaries or formal loan repayment programs.

And of course, unlike millennials, some of whom can remember a pre-internet world and most of whom did not touch a smartphone until early adulthood, few Generation Z members can fathom an existence without constant 24/7 connectivity. That’s one of the reasons, Hiller reasoned, that they tend to have a hard time accepting assertions from parents, teachers and, yes, even bosses. “This provokes a willingness to question everything, because [they] can look it up,” he said.

As a result, Hiller warned the audience, their youngest employees may not come on the job with the same sense of deference towards superiors often expected of newbies. To Generation Z, said Hiller, there “are no more pedestals.” 

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