Millennials have been replaced on college campuses by a new generation. Some call the new students Generation Z. I refer to them as Digitals because their compulsive dependence on technology actually helps define their character.
There were signs the cheerful and optimistic Millennial population was on the wane.
The most revealing clue was meeting new Digital parents at a social event on campus. Mom and Dad were not the usual helicopter, Baby Boomers who attend these events. The parents were actually the early GenXers.
Institutions didn’t do a particularly good job managing Xers when they were in college or as they entered the workforce. Here are a few tips that may help academics and future employers identify and deal better with the new Digitals who are bursting onto the scene:
More Independent and Less Team Oriented
Since middle school, Digitals have been spending countless hours alone glued to their laptops and smart phones. As a result, their team participation skills are weak.
Class group projects usually end in disaster because they have come to rely on technology to communicate with each other rather than devoting the time required to meet face-to-face. Unlike Millennials who enjoyed working together, Digitals want independence.
Employers need to beef up their team training programs. Digitals are inherently technology loners who need help in constructing boundaries around the use of their digital devices.
Fear of Making Mistakes Limits Participation
Digitals don’t speak in class because they are fearful of saying something wrong. Instructors interpret this silence as an apathetic lack of interest. Lashing out at them for their silence only heightens the trepidation, and can cause a complete class shut down.
Technology has robbed Digitals of traditional communication skills. Plus, high school counselors have scared them into believing that one mistake like a bad grade, a speeding ticket, or saying something inappropriate on the school bus can ruin a potentially prosperous future life.
Digitals require coaching to break out of this fear. If they offer a wrong answer in a class discussion or in a meeting, explain that a mistaken answer is better than no answer at all. Two consistent weeks of this kind of encouragement leads to far better participation.
Transcended Mass Media As A Credible Source
Digitals place no credibility in traditional mass communication sources. They trust their peers and online reviews, even from strangers, much more than classical communications sources. They get their news from social media platforms and aggregate news sites such as Buzzfeed that condenses otherwise educational material with entertainment and pop culture.
They appreciate companies that provide them with personalized digital experiences. Companies like Uber cater to them in an on demand economy. Others like Chipotle are their shining examples of personalized everything; even their vegan gluten free pita and environmentally friendly recyclable burrito bowls.
They select what schools they are going to apply to, classes they expect to take, and companies they want to work for based on Google searches leading to articles and third party endorsements. They trust web sites like Glassdoor and RateMyProfessor to give them valuable insights regardless of who is writing the posts. Native communications offend them much less than traditional promotional efforts.
They trust social media. It’s why I created a customized social platform for my Digital students to more privately express what they had learned in class that day.
Comfortable with Diversity
What is particularly striking about Digitals is the ease in which they accept one another-- regardless of their backgrounds. Today’s college classroom is populated with students from foreign countries, first generation college students, Title IX athletes, and wealthy suburbanites. They are polite with one another and show no visible signs of discrimination. Employers can shelve their diversity training videos.
I really miss the vibrancy, optimism, and fun-loving nature of my former Millennial students. The quieter, geekier Digitals require a very different kind of teaching style. My lecture tone has been softened, and I have to constantly encourage the Digitals not to be scared of participating in class. Also, I am always looking for ways to use new technologies and social platforms to build interest and credibility.
It has been a real challenge to adapt to the generational change taking place on campus. My innate overly protective, baby boomer style can be offensive to Digitals. Their technologically wired brains much prefer very precise direction and then freedom to work independently.
Corporations need to start making adjustments to their recruiting and training programs as they ready themselves for this new generation. Digitals need remedial help in verbal communications and teamwork. Add those skills to their repertoire of talents and the Digitals will have the potential to outperform everyone in the organization.
In addition to running his own agency, Bill Bergman is a Lecturer in Marketing at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond