Just when we were finally getting used to Millennials in the workplace, it's time to brace ourselves for the next round of movers and shakers.
They are independent, innovative, technologically savvy, and emotionally intelligent. They are truly global citizens and are ready to make big changes in this world.
I'm talking about Gen Z.
Born in the late 90's and early 2000's, these youngsters are here to show you that despite their age, they are a force to reckon with. Author and workplace consultant Alexandra Levit says Gen Z is so intelligent and mature, it wouldn't be surprising to see them take over by the time they're 22.
To get to know this generation better, I sat down with Joseph Palumbo of Pleasantville High School in Westchester County, NY. Principal to over 600 Gen Z students, Palumbo knows this population well: how they think, how they learn, and what is truly most important to them. He's on a mission to make the current education system as supportive and inspiring to this generation as possible, especially in this age of information. Palumbo is truly innovative and well-loved by students and parents alike.
What do you see as clear characteristics of this generation?
What I see in the students of this generation is their desire to connect work across multiple areas of disciplines. They don't compartmentalize. They are looking to tackle big questions and need a broad range of solutions through the various disciplines. There is a strong desire to make the world a better place and adding something larger to themselves. They enjoy connecting to others outside of the school, via their writing and art. They aren't limiting the audience for their thinking to just the faculty, but get most energized by affecting a larger group. They get a real charge for creating a digital imprint for themselves.
Where does this desire to create an impact come from?
"Why are we learning this?" is a question I used to ask when I was in school. They now have access to information that allows them to answer those questions themselves. Years ago teachers were the keepers of information, and now the role of a teacher is to help the students use the information in a helpful way. They also want to have meaning in their work. When they can identify meaning in their work they have endless opportunities.
If I could build a curriculum from scratch--it would start with courses with big ideas and problems and tie in the different disciplines and creative ways to solve problems. The search for meaning draws the kids to want to explore the big problems, not single disciplines. I think we should be teaching them how to solve the big problems and then bring in the separate disciplines as they are needed.
How is technology embedded into their social norms?
They are online at all times. Students use technology to communicate with their friends and family, to research, to organize their materials, and to work creatively. Some of it's positive and some negative. We do significant work with them around being good digital citizens and the digital footprint. They are thoughtful about the pros and cons.
What are their biggest challenges?
They have to struggle with an uncertain future. Unlike our parents who would work for one company and get a pension, they have to be mobile and ready for emerging trends. When we talk about development of 21st century skills, they need to be able to work creatively, solve problems and collaborate with others.
What are they most excited about?
Gen Z is most excited about creating meaning in the work that they do and connecting with larger audiences. They have a true yearning to leave a positive legacy with the work they do.
Is there anything about Gen Z that is unique?
They are optimistic. Regardless of the challenges that they have, they can work together to achieve their goals. Our school has a long history of sending kids off to great things, and a long record of success for these students. Our senior class students are involved in internships and are working in private businesses. They are leading a campaign on being an upstander rather than a bystander.