Generation Z – the term coined for those people born since the mid 90s – has arguably the shortest attention span of any generation in history. Also dubbed ‘the internet generation’, they were ‘born social,’ addicted to and proficient at all things digital. This also makes them truly global citizens – as living in a digital world connects them to a more diverse range of people than ever before. As this cohort of young people will make up a third of the population by 2020, all businesses need to pay special attention to their behaviour and expectations.
They also appear to be the most entrepreneurially-minded generation, with 72% of them saying they would like to start their own business in a US recent survey.
And there is another interesting characteristic this our future workforce (50% by 2020) and customer base exhibits – they are significantly more motivated by social and environmental issues than previous generations.
Last week I saw the confluence of these two facets of Gen Z in action, as I was privileged to be part of the Young Enterprise Company Programme Area Final in South Oxfordshire. In my role as business advisor to one of the Year 10 teams taking part at my kids’ school, I have been working with our team of 12 boys since September, helping them to start thinking about and putting into practice key business skills.
The Company Programme sees students across the country set up and run a real business over the course of an academic year. The team I’ve been working with was quite traditional in nature; focused sharply on the twin goals of having a good time, learning, and making a profit.
But at the presentation evening I was profoundly struck by the most persistent recurring theme, as team after team got up and explained their motivations and business ideas. Six out of the nine teams had set up a business with an environmental or a social outcome in mind alongside (and in equal importance to) their desire to make money. Not one of those teams was being advised by an experienced business person who instilled that purpose-led or ethical bias to the kids. I know because I’m the first advisor they’ve had with a background in sustainability or CSR.
And yet there they all were – a procession of upcycled goods, wood-based products and recycling clothing – even if their products weren’t specifically ethical then they had thought about social or environmental impact as part of their business plans.
What does this tell us about where the future lies for businesses who want to appeal to this new guard of employees and customers? As globally-minded, socially and environmentally aware, highly entrepreneurial creatures, this generation will set the pace for all businesses to follow.
So, if you are a brand that hasn’t woken up to the purpose-generation yet, my bet is you won’t be around for much longer – either to employ them, or to enjoy their custom.