If you’re looking to grow your conferences, training programs, or association membership overall, Gen Z is the key. They’re large, they’re just starting out in their careers, and they’re open to learning and professional development. Here’s what you need to know about the newest generation in the workforce and what they want from your organization.
Why Young Professionals are Important to the Future of Your Educational Programs
With Millennials now settled into their 30’s and 40’s, the title of “young professional” belongs to the next generation, known as Generation Z (or “Gen Z”). They are the second biggest demographic group in the U.S., and the largest group worldwide at 32% of the global population.
While they only comprised 11.6% of the U.S. workforce in 2020, that number will quickly increase to 27% by 2025. The total number of Gen Z employees is expected to triple within the next ten years.
This generation are your future conference attendees and course participants. Yet, according to our 2022 Training Trends Report, only 20% of associations saw more young professionals participating in their training programs in 2021. The reason? Only 28% of respondents reported having a well-developed strategy in place to address their training and education preferences.
Who is Generation Z?
While there is some variation in the exact dates that define Gen Z, in general they were born between 1997 and 2012. The oldest members are now in their early-to-mid 20’s and are just starting their careers. The youngest members (elementary school) are hanging out with friends on virtual discord servers, learning about mental health advocacy on TikTok, and collaborating on school assignments using Google Docs.
They are diverse
They are the most multi-cultural generation to date. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a 50% increase in the multi-racial youth population since 2000. And almost half of Gen Zs are minorities, compared to 22% of Baby Boomers.
They also value organizations who are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But to Gen Z, DEI is about more than age, gender, or race. To them, diversity is also about how different experiences, identities, and ideas are represented, accepted, and valued.
They are the first true digital (and mobile) natives
Millennials may have grown up with technology, but Gen Z is the first generation where technology is fully integrated into everything they do. They are the first generation who never knew the world without the internet. Many received their first smartphone by the time they were 12. They communicate through social media and texts instead of email or phone. And they don’t just consume or share online content. They create it.
They are entrepreneurial
Today’s generation of young professionals witnessed economic fallout from both the Great Recession and the pandemic, and understand success isn’t guaranteed. At the same time, they are surrounded by start-ups, social media influencers, and other “self-made” peers. They are more likely to take a non-traditional path to success, actively seeking out development opportunities to help them get there.
They want (and expect) flexibility
Members of Gen Z are more likely to have come from classrooms that allowed them to choose how they learn best. They gravitate toward streaming services where they can watch or listen to entertainment at their convenience. They highly value self-care, work-life balance, and want to work when and where they perform best. And they are very self-driven and committed to getting the job done, but on their terms.
They’re not afraid to tell you what they need
Gen Z is less likely to recognize the rules of hierarchy than their predecessors. They respond to people who demonstrate knowledge, authenticity, and strong communication skills, regardless of age or longevity. They are more likely to question rules and authority, and are quick to tell you what they need from you to be successful.
How Gen Z Might Shape Your Association’s Educational Programs
Today, many associations and other education-driven organizations struggle with how to remain relevant at a time when access to free knowledge is just a click away. But associations offer more than just knowledge.
You also help young professionals make connections and build credibility. Gen Z will find tremendous value in these opportunities if you can adapt to their needs and meet them on their terms.
Here are 3 things Gen Z wants from your educational programs
A multi-layered approach to learning
Look for ways to offer educational content for a single course or program multiple ways so participants can pick and choose what works best for them. Maybe some components are instructor-led, and others are self-guided. Or, some lessons are long-form, and others are “snack-sized” bites of content, delivered in print, video, online, and mobile.
To achieve this, you may need to step back and take a holistic view of all your organization’s educational content, including conferences, workshops, courses, and other resources, and how they might work together to support this strategy.
Similarly, look at how you can provide multiple ways to demonstrate competency. At a time when some college admissions are becoming test-optional, does a single certification exam still make sense? Will it in 5-10 years?
To be not just a learner, but a co-creator
Give young professionals a voice in the learning process. While an instructor or conference presenter may have more experience and knowledge, their own perspectives, experiences, and knowledge are equally relevant. Use your instructors and speakers as facilitators, but don’t spoon-feed the content to them. Let them explore and come to some of their own conclusions.
Introduce a more diverse perspective
Not only is Gen Z the most diverse generation, Gen Z-ers feel strongly about organizations who are committed to increasing and promoting diversity. It may be a good time to revisit your conference speakers and sessions, or your course materials to ensure they represent a mix of experiences, identities, and ideas.
It feels like the rate of change speeds up with each passing year. And it’s only going to get faster as Gen Z enters the workforce. They are a generation that is radically different from their predecessors. All indications are they will shake up many of the unspoken rules, traditions, and social contracts that exist in both work and social settings. And their expectations for your educational programs and educational content is going to be very different. Now is the time to re-evaluate your programs and make sure you’re ready for this new generation of learners.