Have you ever thought about the generation you were born into and how that affected your experience as you came into the workforce? I am Generation X and we are generally described as being resourceful, independent, and we appreciate a healthy work/life balance. We were the first generation to grow up with a touch of modern technology. I remember the computer lab at school and playing countless hours of Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego! I got my first cell phone at 18 and it definitely was not smart. If you are too young to remember Oregon Trail, you can still play it here. I have heard that Carmen Sandiego is having a moment on Google Earth-check out the revamp of the original 1985 game that teaches about geography, populations and language.

Old phone

In case you are not familiar with what generation you fall into, check out this table with the birth year ranges. There are some differing opinions on when a generation starts and ends, but these are generally accepted. Notice that Generation Z has been coming into the workforce over the last couple of years.

Unlike my prior generation, the Baby Boomers, I was “somewhat” tech savvy as a young person. Remember pagers and the secret codes that we created so we didn’t actually have to call?  For those who have no idea what’s going on with the pager pictured, it says “Hello, I need to talk to you best friend”. Of course, I was not nearly as savvy as the generation that came after me, Gen Y. Many of Gen Y had technology at an early age, but the true experts are Gen Z and Gen Alpha. They have had advanced technology since they were very young and are more fluent than most of the rest of us, unless you are one of those early career Gen Z reading this in which case can you help me with TikTok?

Some significant Generation Z firsts are they have never known a world without the internet, they have never used a phone with a cord, and they don’t even know what a floppy disk is. Now I feel old…🤣

So why does this matter? Is it really a big deal that different generations grew up differently? The short answer is YES! Our lived experiences shape our perceptions and how we interact with the world. Having an idea about the experiences of others can help us to build understanding and bridge the gap between generations. Check out this TedX Talk by Nathaniel Turner that discusses how people view Generation Z.

If you work, chances are that you are currently working with, or leading, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z. It can be difficult to articulate the flow and function of work when everyone has a different idea of how it should look. Gen Z is now entering the workforce and they are shaking things up with new ideas and ways of thinking.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the article What Are the Core Characteristics of Generation Z?”, they outline some characteristics about Gen Z that make them a valuable asset to the workforce. They are:

  • Diversity is their norm
  • They are the first digital natives
  • Pragmatic and financially-minded
  • They are shrewd consumers

In the article, it is also noted that there are some challenges that are faced by young people, most notably mental health challenges. In their book “Generation Z Unfiltered”, Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak outline 9 challenges to working with Gen Z and provide research-based strategies to overcome those challenges.

It is not enough to just be aware of the strengths and challenges that are coming in with this new generation. The previous generations need to have a toolkit of strategies and solutions to help the young people in our lives to navigate our world. Elmore and McPeak provide practical, real-world advice for combating these challenges.

Are you interested in learning more about working with and leading the generation that makes up almost 25% of the US population? Here at the Kane County Regional Office of Education, I was really curious about learning more. We are offering an online, asynchronous administrator academy AA#3908 School Leadership: Generation Z Unfiltered. It is based on the work of Tim Elmore, Andrew McPeak, and Deloitte. Click here to learn more and to register.

This new generation of workers may not know what a cassette tape is or be able to ford the river in Oregon Trail, but they are bringing a set of ideals and skills that are worthy of our attention. What do you think about Generation Z?  Please let us know by tagging us @KaneCountyROE.

Raven Szalkowski – Professional Learning Coordinator
(t):  630-762-2056
(e): rszalkowski@kaneroe.org

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