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Dr. David Kohl

Generation “Z” is in the House

Much of the recent discussion on demographics has focused on the movement of the Millennial Generation as the Baby Boomers transition into retirement. Now, the term “pig in the python” better describes the children and grandchildren of Baby Boomers, instead of the Baby Boomers as it once did. At 73 million, Generation Z, better known as Gen Z, is slightly smaller than the Millennial Generation. The members of the Gen Z were born between 1995 to 2015. And the first wave of this group is now graduating from high schools and colleges, entering the workforce, and becoming potential business partners and owners. So, what are the most productive ways to work with Gen Z? Let’s examine some of their general characteristics as compared to previous generations.

First, this group prefers to work independently with no shared open workspace. This is contrasted to the Millennials, who are generally collaborators and want open office space to stimulate discussion. The Millennials also stress the balance of work and life time, while Gen Z tends to value flexibility, working anytime and in any place.

Next, the members of Gen Z will be conservative financially. For most, their childhoods were influenced by the Great Recession of 2008, which helped shape their financial philosophy. In many cases, they observed their parents in an era of job cuts and they watched as retirement portfolios were cut in half. Parents, grandparents, or at least someone they knew lost their home to bankruptcy. And of course, some were raised in a single parent home, which commonly impacts financial freedom.

Interestingly, another tendency of Gen Z is less of a desire or need for recognition. This could present a potential clash with the Gen X or Millennial Generations. Gen Z group does not expect a trophy just for participation, and in this regard can be more competitive and driven.

In general, this segment of the population likes to create personalized job descriptions and is very good at multitasking. This group shows a leeriness of snapshot and social media dangers and will be calculated in the exposure of their personal information online. In addition, they prefer to work with organizations and businesses that support social causes and community service.

Companies and businesses that celebrate individuality will be appealing to Gen Z workers. This emerging demographic has only known a “connected world.” Thus, they will not draw a distinction between working in an office at home, or out on a hike because they are always online. This segment will be “phigital,” or accepting digital space as an appropriate replacement for in-person meetings. In other words, from Gen Z’s view, dialing into a meeting via videoconference is no different thing than sitting face-to-face in a board room. In fact, they would rather Skype than waste time driving or delayed at an airport hub.

On education, this generation will turn today’s system upside down. The old classroom lecture will become obsolete with less memorization and more challenging work assignments that include discovery. This will be a generation of problem solvers that will enjoy critical thinking. Teachers will become more like facilitators inside the concept of “blended education.” This concept will include more online instruction followed by face-to-face meetings for case study and networking. The “high tech and high touch” approach is the blend of online education and human interaction that will be so critical with this new generation.

Not unlike previous generations, Gen Z will challenge the status quo, consumer trends, the workplace culture and society in general. The aforementioned trends are an introduction to the new generation for management, board members, business owners and the workplace. Also similar to other generations, they will be defined by the events and challenges that take place around the world during their lifetime. Through speaking events and interactions with college and university groups, 4-H, and FFA, I have already observed several Gen Z individuals in action. This generation demonstrates a curiosity and sense of engagement that will be necessary to lead businesses, classrooms and public policy in the future. In some of the most impressive Gen Z members, I observed an innate knowledge of technology combined with a good work ethic and strong relational skills. In working with this generation, one has to keep an open mind and be ready to adopt new methods, but must also be extremely selective. 

About the Author:

David Kohl received his master of science and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics from Cornell University. For 25 years, Kohl was professor of agricultural finance and small business management and entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia. He was on special leave with the Royal Bank of Canada working on advanced initiatives for two years, and assisted in the launch of the successful entrepreneurship program at Cornell University. Kohl is professor emeritus in the AAEC Department at Virginia Tech. Kohl has traveled more than seven million miles throughout his professional career! He has conducted more than 5,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and more than 1,000 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension, and other popular publications. Kohl regularly writes for Ag Lender and Corn and Soybean Digest.