Gen Z: How They Learn

Keep these truths about Gen Z learners in mind as you make plans for multigenerational learning in 2019.

Generation Z learnersGeneration Z, or those born after 1994, is just now entering the workforce, bringing an added layer of complexity to talent development. According to new research from LinkedIn Learning, 75 percent of learning executives are already making changes to development programs in anticipation of Gen Z’s arrival. They’re figuring out that Gen Z approaches learning differently than their only slightly older millennial siblings. And they’re putting in place new strategies to engage and retain this next generation of employees.

Here are three things about Generation Z that employers should consider as they make plans for multigenerational learning in 2019.

Freedom to Learn

Gen Z is the first cohort of workers that grew up with the internet from day one. They were weaned on connectivity and near-instant updates to apps and hardware. They both value and use a steady stream of information, insights and recommendations to inform decisions and guide experiences. Against that backdrop, it should be no surprise that nearly half (43 percent) of Gen Z learners reported a preference for fully self-directed and independent learning.

In contrast, LinkedIn Learning research suggests that just 20 percent of L&D practitioners plan to offer self-directed learning experiences for Gen Z. Perhaps with good reason, L&D providers are often skeptical about the impact of self-serve learning given the amount of freedom it allows. But as the shelf life of skills shrinks, and with unprecedented pressure to embrace continuous learning that L&D leaders view as critical, it’s time to open up to new approaches that work for different generations. And Gen Z wants to choose what to learn and how they want to learn it in a way that feels right to them. Giving them the freedom to learn on their own while guiding them on the type of skills required may create a more supportive learning journey that Gen Z desires.

Money Talks, Culture Walks

For millennials, cash matters, but culture is king. For Gen Z, however, LinkedIn’s latest research suggests that L&D professionals may be underestimating the power of money as a motivator for learning.

Our latest survey suggests that more than two-thirds of Gen Z-ers want to learn a new skill. When asked the reason for doing so, 33 percent of L&D professionals expect the promise of money will incentive Gen Z to upskill. And more than half (55 percent) of Gen Z learners said they would be willing to learn professional skills in exchange for a boost in pay.

The same applies to career advancement, though on a slightly smaller scale: 38 percent of Gen Z said they’d learn in order to get a promotion, but only 28 percent of L&D leaders thought a promotion would motivate Gen Z to learn.

To get Gen Z workers excited about being an active participant in a learning culture, L&D will want to focus on engagement tactics and show the connection to career advancement.

Hard to Learn Soft Skills

Like their predecessors in the world of work, Gen Z thinks they have soft skills covered. A whopping 62 percent believe that learning hard skills, such as proficiency with cloud-based tools, trumps the importance of honing soft skills like collaboration, time management and problem-solving.

Not surprisingly, some 61 percent of L&D leaders believe Gen Z will need extra support around the development of soft skills; confidence in and command of soft skills are not one and the same. In fact, with generations past, they’ve often been at odds. While Gen Z understands that learning new skills will be critical to their economic relevance (and employment), they may overlook the importance of skills like communication and collaboration that will be key to making good on the promise of lifelong learning.

So what sort of imprint will Gen Z make on the workplace? And how will the world of work respond to the pressures and preferences of such a large and important generation of workers? While only time will tell whether our early predictions come to pass, L&D leaders are in a unique position to not only observe — but affect — the future of Gen Z and continuing to foster a culture of learning.