Awaiting the “Z” Change

Generation Y We know why marketing and advertising firms love to dissect and analyze each generation.  The theory is that consumers are generally brand loyal and change-averse–get someone using your products early, and you will have a customer for life—or at least, for many years to come.

Enter the newest target cohort and subject of marketers’ scrutiny: those born since around 1997, many of them teenagers just starting to make their own purchasing decisions.  As the parent of a member of this group, who is currently exhibiting a great degree of closed-door teenage secretiveness, I read about her generation with great interest in hopes of learning something useful.

New Name For The New Generation

First, what do we call them? There’s no clear winner at this point, but the authors and consultants who make these proclamations have thrown a few monikers out there.  Some, like the Swipe Generation, Screeners, Digital Natives, the Homeland Generation, the TwoKays (get it? 2Ks?) and Tweenials, don’t appear to have much chance of becoming “the” identifier.  One marketing firm, Frank Magid Associates, has proposed calling the group Plurals, because they are the most diverse of any generation in the U.S.

Based on frequency of use in articles (and my own totally non-scientific brand-o-meter), I’m predicting the winner as either Gen Z (the Zs) or the Post Millennials (the Posts).

So what impact is this generation (let’s call them the Zs) likely to have on law schools and the legal workplace?  Just as employers have begun to address the challenges of recruiting and retaining Millennials, the early Zs are now thinking about what their educational and career path might be. At roughly 45 million strong, or about half the size of Gen Y, trend commentators suggest that Gen Z’s influence, fueled and leveraged by its members’ constant digital connection to the world, may be proportionally greater.

What’s Different About  “Generation Y ” ?

According to the Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report, while Gen Ys are seen as optimistic and idealistic, Zs tend to be cautious and pragmatic.  Growing up in a world shaped by a series of challenging events—9/11, the tsunami, and the Great Recession – Zs don’t take things like a ready job or a regular paycheck for granted.  After witnessing the loss of jobs by parents, and older siblings moving home, they are cautious with their money, and tend to avoid debt.  They are less likely to make impulse purchases, and want what they buy to demonstrate long-term value and make them feel safe.  They tend to be skeptical about marketing; rely on constant stream of information, and want to test products, physically or virtually, before committing to buy.

Along these lines, Zs will strongly consider whether college is worth the cost, placing a higher value that previous generations on real-world experience and lifelong learning than the cohorts before them. They worry about student loans and value frugality.  As to grad school, only 64% of Gen Z teens considered earning and advanced degree as one of their goals, versus 71% of Gen Ys at the same age.

In the workplace, Zs want what they do for a living to make a difference in the world.  A separate Intelligence Group survey, conducted in April 2013 in collaboration with early-career networking site Intern Sushi, found that 60% of Gen Zs surveyed reported that “having an impact on the world” will be important to them in their jobs, as opposed to only 39% of Millennials at the same age.  Another trendwatcher, Scott Hess, of Spark, a Publicis Group-owned media agency, predicts that technology will allow many, perhaps most, Zs to work from anywhere.  This may lead the cohort to be somewhat nomadic—i.e., willing to move often in an attempt to find better work, better balance and job satisfaction.

Despite the challenging times they’ve witnessed, the cohort is quite positive in outlook—only 6% are fearful about the future, according to the Cassandra Report.  Having grown up with constant innovation and social change, Zs are also inquisitive and globally aware.  They are resilient and want to understand and solve the world’s problems. This desire to contribute bodes well for the legal profession if we can provide the Zs what they want in terms of meaningful work and lifelong learning.  Rick Wartzman of the Drucker Institute suggests that employers in all sectors have a great opportunity to develop a whole new model in response—a combination of hands-on experience, training and mentoring.

For now, I am trying to recognize that my resident Z may just turn out to be a productive professional—if we can ever get her to clean up her room.


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