Generation Z Challenges


The next decade promises to be an important one for Generation Z. While there are many unanswered questions about what their future holds, we can follow current trends to envision what this group will face in the years ahead.  As they begin to enter the workforce, Generation Z entrants face stiff competition along with the likelihood that it will take a decade or more to recover lost earning power from having entered the job market during the Great Recession. They will likely find employment in sectors like healthcare, information technology, leisure and hospitality.More jobs will require at least some higher education, and be dependent on 21st century skills, such as abilities to think creatively, communicate effectively and work in teams.  However, higher education costs are skyrocketing, saddling many students with debt for years after graduation and reducing their overall buying power and quality of life.

iei-genz-graduateNorth Carolina’s continued economic transformation will further split the workforce, increasing the numbers of jobs that pay well and those that do not.  The state’s economy will provide far fewer middle class jobs for lower skilled workers.  Those that would have taken these jobs will have to shift toward lower paying jobs in the service sector—or upgrade their skills.  The growth of high- and low-skill occupations will create a more polarized workforce and even greater economic inequalities.

By the time Generation Z reaches adulthood, North Carolina will be the seventh largest state in the country with population growth concentrated in its largest cities. Many from rural areas of the state will have to either find work among a diminishing population or move to another area of the state where opportunities are more plentiful.  Regardless of where they live, their communities will be more diverse with close to half of the state’s population made up of racial or ethnic minority groups.

iei-genz-iphoneIt is certain that connectivity will be an integral part of the Generation Z lifestyle. As history’s first “always connected” generation, they are steeped in digital technology and social media. They communicate openly with each other through text messages, blogs, and tweets. New technology provides more than a new avenue for social interaction; it creates a bottomless source of information and entertainment.

This kind of connectivity also creates an opportunity for the business world. Businesses can be instantly connected with one another at any point in the day from anywhere in the world — all an employee has to do is open a laptop or computer. This technology is shaping the workplace as well. For example, the Best Buy headquarters has shifted its working schedule to a “result only work environment” where employees can come at any time or work from anywhere so long as their work is completed. This kind of environment exemplifies the work atmosphere desired by these youth, a generation constantly connected in every aspect of life.

Such connectedness has a dark side, however, contributing to a sedentary lifestyle and skyrocketing rates of obesity. This generation may live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents despite the medical advances of the last twenty years. Of 100 Generation Z kids, 47 will be obese by the time they reach adulthood. In a time of shrinking family budgets, the cheapest food options remain the unhealthiest and the access to safe and attractive places for physical activity are limited for children living in poverty.

Even as Generation Z members are so highly connected, they also appear to be less inclined toward civic engagement than earlier generations when it comes to voting and to participating in their communities. This could lead to deficiencies in leadership, as fewer people choose to enter into civil service or run for elected office.

At IEI, we work hard to find solutions to these challenges that face Generation Z. During the 2011 Emerging Issues Forum, Investing in Generation Z, individuals from across the state came together to brainstorm and began to develop ways to empower this generation, and Generation Z Ambassadors came up with three projects they wanted to pursue. Learn more about their ideas here and see our Gen Z Taking Action page for information on how you can help support these youth.