Generation Z

Phil Swan explores what the features of Generation Z mean for entrepreneurship in Wales

Expressions such as ‘my generation’ and ‘the older generation’ are often used to describe differences between age groups. But what are generations and how do we define them?


With a new generation of people now coming to an age where they will begin their lives in Wales’ workforce, FSB has commissioned research into what this new generation will look like, and how their characteristics and influences will shape them as the next generation of entrepreneurs.


Generations occur because of changes in cultural and social attitudes, preferences, and behaviours, which tend to be continuous and vary in pace. As a result generational boundaries tend to be fuzzy with no clear or set cut-offs between generations, but tend to span around 20 years.


Individuals belonging to given age cohorts, or ‘generations’, develop similar characteristics based on the connections of experiencing the same significant historical events or societal changes. Of course it is also true that individuals within a generation may have opposing responses to the same historical and social situations. These may differ according to things like an individual’s location and culture, as well as their social and intellectual participation in the particular event. Despite this, shared experiences will often result in the development of  ‘collective memories’ which will go on to form generational attitudes, preferences and behaviour.


Events that are likely to form a shared memory amongst people of a similar age may include:


  • deaths of world leaders or figures
  • wars or terrorist acts
  • societal shifts that influence the distribution of resources
  • ‘privileged interval’ which connects a generation into a cycle of success or failure
  • shifts in legal, social (diversity of all types), or technological trends


Interestingly, generational attitudes change more quickly in times of accelerated social and cultural change. As we look around at current international and national events and social trends – Trump, Brexit, austerity, property prices, ‘fake news’, social media, terrorism – we should ask the question, how are these shared experiences of the world shaping the impressionable attitudes, values, and behaviours of Generation Z? And what will this mean for our future entrepreneurs?


The timing of this research coincides with a time of fast-paced technological change which will further influence the entrepreneurial characteristics that we can expect from Generation Z.


Generation Z – what do we know so far?


Generation Z, or Post-Millennials as they are also known, are individuals born in the year 2000 or afterwards. Early research has identified some interesting trends for Generation Z, perhaps indicative of a rapidly changing society.


Slower life strategy


As a society we are increasingly living longer.  Generation Z are enjoying a predictable and safe environment and have grown up with relatively high levels of resources and wealth when compared to previous generations. This has resulted in slower life strategy for Generation Z.


Generation Z are waiting longer to get their first job with under 5% of under 16s engaged in part time work with the number decreasing year-on-year, falling a fifth just in the last 5 years to just 23,000. This could be because of more pressure from school work and exams, the fact that newspaper rounds don’t really exist anymore, or for many other reasons.


Processing information


Generation Z live in an era of emojis and six-second Vine videos, and having grown up with tweets and instant status updates many won’t remember a time before social media. As a result, Generation Z are able to take in information instantaneously and filter and process large amounts of it, and are often very good at articulating succinctly. However, it has been found that this is resulting in a shorter attention span.


Previous research has indicated that although the gestation period of a new business can vary significantly between entrepreneurs, the average is about one year. For Generation Z, will the ability to process information fast and work on several activities at once mean that we will see an increasing intensity in how future entrepreneurs identify and assess, as well as pursue or abandon, business opportunities?


Socially minded consumers


As consumers, Generation Z are more cautious and socially minded, and are driven by a need to show their peers that they are having a great time through social media. Purchases made by Generation Z are often linked to what they can share with followers on social media and are often linked to social causes. This has meant that they are much more likely to want to learn about the back story of brands to ensure their values sit with their own.


Research also shows that Generation Z are prioritising experiential purchases, particularly if those experiences are shareable on social media.  As a result, we are likely to see Generation Z starting more socially-focused entrepreneurial ventures as well as incorporating more shareable experiences into the products and services they will provide.


In the Workplace


In the workplace – who knows – they’ve not got there yet. The oldest Gen Z individual is just turning 18. But what we do know is that jobs are changing. A.I. and automation are due to dramatically change the world of work. At the same time, recent studies have highlighted the high proportion of people that aren’t getting the same sense of fulfilment or purpose from their – mostly – services-based employment. How will these changes likely play out and affect Generation Z in the workplace? We’ll have to wait and see.


Join the conversation


The doctoral research is sponsored by FSB Wales and is being undertaken by Phil Swan at the University of South Wales. We invite you to join the conversation on Generation Z by getting involved in the series of articles, Doopolls and Tweets over the coming fortnight and using the hashtag #GenZEnt to have your say on Twitter.


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All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Phil Swan is undertaking a PhD study into Generation Z individuals and entrepreneurship at the University of South Wales. This research was commissioned by FSB Wales

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