Well, the dust has finally settled.
It's true we have crossed a mysterious threshold, and the workforce is now flooded with Millennials--56 million of them. Yet, we also know that Gen Z workers, those who are just about finishing up college as we speak (including my own daughter), grew up in a world that had ubiquitous and fast internet access, a stable social media platform (that would be Facebook), and incredible smartphone technology.
That's why, by 2020, companies will start snapping up these young workers faster than they can fill out a W2 form, and we'll be happy to put Millennials on less important projects or at least shift them up into the management ranks, and let those who live and breathe modern technology become the coders, product testers, and front-line workers in retail and at startups. While Gen Z might not be well-versed in project management or even using apps like Dropbox or Slack in the workplace, they are absolute savants with technology.
I know this because I've watched my own kids. A phone is like a third appendage. They flip, swipe, and press faster than anyone; it's second nature. Millennials, especially those a bit older, had to work through some rough patches in their formative years. They used MySpace, not Facebook. They never touched an iPhone. They barely had high-speed access in the home as elementary age kids, especially if they were outside of a metro area.
Millennials are a bit more jaded and don't trust tech as much, because they remember a time in their early years when it wasn't as pervasive. You can feel sorry for them if you want.
Gen Z have a much more symbiotic relationship with tech.
They don't second guess it, or analyze it as much, or wonder if it is causing problems in some way. It's just there. They see it as a part of society, and they barely remember when it wasn't common. Think about the Apple iPhone. For many Gen Z workers, the iPhone has been around since they were in elementary school. Android phones existed a few years before that. A Wi-Fi connection, once a luxury for some of us, was always around.
That means the typical Gen Z worker will be a major asset for a company trying to move into the next age of technology, one that involves pervasive artificial intelligence, unlimited storage, high-end video processing everywhere you look, digital billboards that are as good as the TV in your living room, and apps that make Snapchat seem like a modern marvel of interface design. If you think some apps and services are a bit hard to learn, it might be because you actually used a pencil in school instead of a laptop or a tablet in school.
It's not overstating the reality that, in many ways, Gen Z are almost like cyborgs--tech is not a learned skill, and there was never any adjustment period. There was life, and then there was the internet. Many Gen Z workers barely ever used a landline. The great digital divide between Millennials and Gen Z is that there are what Gartner calls the natural born and the immigrants to tech; there's never been a generation before Gen Z that grew up with pervasive tech and widespread access in their school and at home. Every day. Almost since birth.
So what does this all mean for the rest of us?
Let's be clear: We know this kind of constant exposure to tech will make a huge difference. Watch someone under 22 these days use a phone--it's a flash and a flicker of constant activity. They know technology better than anyone. It's part of their DNA.
The question isn't whether Gen Z workers will easily outpace everyone else in how they adapt to the workplace and create dazzling new apps and services, or how they will mesmerize us with keen insight into the future tech advancements that await us all.
It's how the rest of us will even survive.