Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to understanding the next generation that will shape our futures.
United Nations data shows us that Generation Z – those born after 2000 – will account for 32 per cent of the global population in 2019, and when combined with millennials, over 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020.
It is easy to dismiss the youth of today as entitled, self-centred, glued to their phones, and lacking depth and critical thinking. Easy, but also discriminatory, intolerant, antipathetic, and full of false biases.
There is a joke that regularly does the rounds on social media that Gen Z culture is “crying about your grades while you do your homework”. Like most good jokes, we laugh because it’s funny, but also because it hints at an underlying truth. What it describes is a combination of a sense of responsibility and emotional awareness with conscientiousness and drive.
Through our research at Goldsmiths at the University of London, in collaboration with Huawei, we investigated the life and work realities of Gen Z and what matters to them, as well as what we can do to support them as they advance their careers.
Interestingly, our research revealed the rise of a new tribe within Gen Z – a tribe of individuals who express themselves with confidence and style, collaborate with others, engage meaningfully with the world around them, and are motivated by purpose and passion in everything they do.
They are the New Working Order.
The New Working Order make up around 40 per cent of Gen Z, using smartphones and technology to enhance creativity and productivity. They value work-life integration, flexible working, and multi-experience lives, as well as continuous learning and moving freely between loyalties.
This group is workforce-ready, fiercely ambitious, and driven to make substantial changes to the world around them through not just ideas but execution.
This self-starter attitude contrasts dramatically with false narratives like “Generation Snowflake” which suggest that these young people are precious, pampered, and too easily take offence.
The reality from our research is that they just get on with it, and will work through any obstacles put in their way.
In fact, over half (52 per cent) of the New Working Order already pursue passion projects and side hustles, with 59 per cent of them hoping to turn that into their main income stream in the next year.
The New Working Order also set themselves apart through their relationship with technology.
British adults check their mobile phones on average every 12 minutes in the day, or 10,000 times a year. The New Working Order go further, embracing the reality that these processes of tech-infused extended cognition impact our minds’ capacity to problem-solve, releasing dopamine and activating neural pathways associated with learning.
One of the most staggering findings from our study is that 66 per cent of the New Working Order are unable to create or innovate without their smartphone. They live, breathe, and learn through extended cognition as a means of understanding themselves and the world around them.
This generation also prefer to learn through a range of different mediums – from formal coursework to informal online learning. Having grown up as entrepreneurial freelancers, these individuals are more open to alternative forms of education as well as creative solutions for funding it.
For this reason, businesses seeking to attract these candidates should consider a corporate learning programme that includes aspects like self-directed learning, collaborative problem solving, and practical and real-world experience. Crucially, of course, they should also all leverage technology.
As a society, we have a responsibility to equip this generation not just with content but with resilience in our changing, technologically-infused world. Ignorance is not an option – and nor are jokes about snowflakes.
The full report is at www.huaweinewworkingorder.co.uk/