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Here’s How Gen Z Is Shaping the Future of Learning

The newest workers will learn very differently than previous ones did, new research finds.
By: | December 27, 2018 • 3 min read
Gen Z learning

Generation Z, which is composed of those born between 1995 and 2010, is larger than the millennial generation—at 61 million strong. As the first cohort of workers that grew up with the Internet, they are used to dynamic and social communication from an early age.

To unpack generational learning, LinkedIn recently conducted a survey to assess trends in learning and identify any gaps in what influences Gen Z to learn and stay engaged versus what L&D and HR leaders think they want.

The survey included responses from 400 learning and HR professionals at small, medium and large U.S. companies to understand how they are planning for a successful year of development for all learners. Another survey included responses from more than 2,000 Gen Zers,  composed of those born between 1995 and 2010, which means that the oldest participants are about 22 and are just entering the workforce.

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Here is what talent developers should know:

Nearly all agree skills today are changing faster than ever, and Gen Z is keen to learn them.

  • Seventy-six percent of Gen Z professionals feel that the skills necessary in today’s workforce are different from the skills necessary in past generations. Similarly, 91 percent of L&D leaders agree the skills necessary for today’s workforce have changed
  • The majority of Gen Z (59 percent) don’t feel their job will exist in the same form 20 years from now.

Don’t underestimate financial incentives as motivators to learn.

Unlike their millennial predecessors for Gen Z learners financial incentives and career advancement matter.  More than half (59 percent) of Gen Z learners would learn professional skills to make more money, but just 33 percent of L&D pros said the same.

Similarly, 46 percent of Gen Z said they’d learn in order to get a promotion, but only 28 percent of L&D pros thought a promotion would motivate Gen Z to learn.

Gen Z wants to learn on their own terms and prefer bite-sized learning.

As native Internet users, Gen Z are used to fast-moving technology and immediate gratification, and as noted in the LinkedIn research Gen Z feel like time is scarce. As such, L&D and HR leaders may want to consider investing in micro-learning, known for quickly closing skill and knowledge gaps, to fit into the busy lives of Gen Z.

Gen Z learners also prefer more independence in learning than L&D programs tend to offer. While nearly half of Gen Z respondents prefer a fully self-directed and independent approach to learning, only 20 percent of L&D and HR leaders reported that they plan to offer Gen Z learners this level of self-direction.

Gen Z believes hard skills are changing faster than ever.

  • Sixty-two percent of Gen Z stated that hard skills have changed faster than ever and are more important than soft skills.

Conversely, L&D leaders believe that soft skills are more important and 61 percent believe that Gen Z will need extra support for the development of soft skills, to navigate a changing world of work. A smaller but still significant number of L&D leaders think Gen Z will need support in other areas as well. For example, 41 percent believe Gen Z workers will need additional help to develop technical proficiency.

Research from Deloitte similarly supports this notion and suggests while Gen Z is anticipated to bring an unprecedented level of technology skills to the workforce, organizational leaders express apprehension about their interpersonal communication skills.

So what does this new data say to HR leaders about how well they are doing when it comes to learning programs, and how can they improve?

According to Tanya Staples, vice president of learning at LinkedIn, a new generation can bring an added layer of complexity to talent development, forcing HR leaders to rethink learning programs, no matter how successful they are at present.

“When Generation Z hits the workforce this year,” she says, “HR leaders should glean insights from this survey to design new engagement strategies for the youngest generation of employees.”

The first key takeaway from the survey, she says, is that nearly half (43 percent) of Gen Z learners reported a preference for fully self-directed and independent learning.

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“Born after 1994, Gen Z is the first cohort of workers that grew up with the internet from day one, so HR leaders should absolutely explore new technologies and platforms that enable freedom to learn at the point of need,” she says.

Another interesting finding from the survey, according to Staples, is that more than half (59 percent) of Gen Z learners said they would be willing to learn a new skill in exchange for a boost in pay.

“HR leaders would be well-served to incorporate more financial and other incentives into their program,” she says, “perhaps alongside some friendly competition, to boost engagement and motivation to learn.”

And finally, Staples says, change is inevitable. Indeed, the survey found that 98 percent of HR professionals believe that Gen Z learning preferences will differ from previous generations.

“HR would be best served to prepare for that change now by establishing a strong learning culture and implementing technology that can personalize learning,” she says, “so that all generations can feel engaged and thrive.”

Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien has been with HRE for more than a decade and holds a degree in economics from Boston College. He can be reached at [email protected]

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