Generation Z Learning and the Impact on Procurement as a Profession

Bill McAneny, acclaimed author of the best-selling book ‘Frankenstein’s Manager’ which outlines why management training does not lead to better-performing managers, has embarked on writing a series on the way different generations learn, and its impact on the make-up of the changing workforce.

In terms of procurement and supply management, this has significant consequences in that more graduating students have chosen the profession as a career and are therefore going to redefine the landscape in key areas including the RFP process, contract negotiation and risk management.

Over the next few weeks we will be posting a series of articles in the Contracting Intelligence Blog, and would invite your comments on what is bound to be a timely and controversial topic.

It seems incredible that Generation Z, those born after 1994, will hit the job market in 3-4 years time. So how do they differ from Gen Y, and what does this mean for how we recruit, manage, motivate, reward and develop this next wave?

Gen Z is the first generation born with full mobile technology already in existence which makes them both comfortable with, and indeed dependent on, such technology. On one hand this has made them primarily independent-minded but it also means they tend to see social media as ‘the norm,’ as education and learning are not adapting quickly enough to modern technology. It also means that ‘socializing’ is not necessarily about physically hanging out with friends, shopping, (or indeed even leaving home), but an activity which occurs online as a solitary, yet collaborative, pursuit. However this generation is not locked into one desktop PC in one location, as all the necessary equipment they require to remain perpetually hooked up is with them wherever they go. This is one of the main differences between Generation Y and Generation Z, that Gen Y’ers remember life before the proliferation of mass technology, while Gen Z are often referred to as the ‘digital natives.’

This has made Generation Z impatient and requiring instant gratification, an introverted and aloof generation, with a lower attention span. Such a high dependence on technology has led to some psychologists suggesting that there is evidence of ‘acquired Attention Deficit Disorder.’ Dr Edward Hallowell, Psychiatrist, former Harvard Medical School faculty member and a specialist in attention deficit disorder claims people have “…become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving…You live at a much more surface level.” A clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, specializing in neuropsychiatry, Dr. John Ratey, uses the term “acquired attention deficit disorder” to describe the way technology is rewiring the modern brain. Even reliance on is short-circuiting the brain’s ability to process details. “My favourite example is when I type the word ‘tomorrow,’ I know spell-check will get it right. It would take 30 milliseconds for me to make sure in my mind. But we depend on that spell-check. Even when we take the time to write, we don’t have the patience to give that a consideration.” People are becoming accustomed to a constant stream of digital stimulation and feel bored in the absence of it. “Regardless of whether the stimulation is from the Internet, TV or a cellphone, the brain, is hijacked.”

Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, Director of Stanford University’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford University agrees: “If our attention span constricts to the point where we can only take information in 140-character sentences, then that doesn’t bode too well for our future. The more we become used to just sound bites and tweets the less patient we will be with more complex, more meaningful information. And I do think we might lose the ability to analyze things with any depth and nuance. Like any skill, if you don’t use it, you lose it.” This will also have a major impact in how this generation forms views, constructs arguments and also how well they see the wider context of issues. This is very much the ‘here and now’ generation.

It also explains why they are more individualistic, self-absorbed and less team oriented than Gen Y. Many of this generation have parents who are ‘stay-at-home’ or working part time and so are less likely to have attended day-care an activity which encourages socialization in teams and also group-play. As such their verbal communication skills also tend to be less well-developed as the majority of their communication takes place individually, online and in ‘shorthand.’ As this is the Google generation who take for granted that information is ‘there,’ immediate and free, they tend to be impatient and expect instant results. They form huge communities and a constant communication loop with people they have never met, and never will meet on the net; paradoxically this generation are collaborative, chatty and sociable on the net, yet in ‘the real world’ they tend to be less well able to develop personal relationships.

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