Allison McWilliams: Generation Z is here

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president of mentoring and alumni personal and career development in the Office of Personal and Career Development.  She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU.  This is the first for the fall semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.

Each fall, when the new class of students hits US college campuses, Beloit College releases its annual Mindset List, the things that shapes that group’s world view and perspective. It’s a fun list, with many stabs to the heart as we realize how old the rest of us really are. Whether or not these “facts of life” shape who these young people are, one considerable shift is taking place that most certainly will: the much-researched and much-maligned Generation Y, or Millennial Generation, have graduated. Get ready for Generation Z.

Who is Generation Z? They are so young, it’s hard to generalize as of yet (though that’s not stopping anyone). But here are some things that people are starting to predict, based on what we know about the current economic, social, and political climate:

  • They are conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious and mindful of the future.
  • They are the first generation to be completely raised in the era of smart phones. As a result of that and watching the mistakes of their Millennial peers, they are very aware of their personal brand, and attracted to technology that “disappears,” like Snapchat. They use technology for research and like to multi-task.
  • They grew up in a post-9/11 world, during a recession. As a result, they are pragmatic, particularly when it comes to career decisions. They don’t necessarily plan to “follow a passion.”
  • They were raised in households and in an education system that was very diverse, comfortable with shifting gender roles and multi-generational families.

What does this mean for us, the mentors? A few key things stand out:

  • We have to learn to meet them where they are, and recognize that they lack fluency with long-term relationships, both personally and professionally.
  • We have to give them the tools that they need to navigate an uncertain world.
  • We have to become more comfortable using technology as a tool for connection, and with a global, diverse mindset.
  • We have to understand that they have access to an almost limitless universe of information at their fingertips; our value is helping them to navigate, understand, and apply that information effectively.

Generation Z is here. We won’t know for several more years what that really means, for us and for them. But our roles remain the same: help them discover who they are as individuals, make intentional choices and decisions, set goals and pursue them, and reflect on what they are learning and how to apply it.