Born between 1994 and 2015, today’s youth grew up during the peak of the 2008 global recession and are the first generation to not experience life before the internet. With diversity, the environment and equality as core values, Gen Z are not afraid to use the web to speak up for what they believe in. This has created a misunderstood and often maligned group of YouTubers and TikTok creators, online business owners and hyper-interconnected people, who have grown up with technology literally at their fingertips.
There is much speculation as to how the seismic events of 2020 will come to define the challenges and opportunities of this first true generation of digital natives, but what is already clear is that they will have a huge impact on the world of business.
Only time will tell what this new future will look like, yet there are some key defining characteristics that are already starting to shape how this generation will challenge the status quo.
Gen Z is informed
The democratization of access to information and resources is something the majority of younger people have never had to live without. They seek out answers, teach themselves new skills via online tutorials, join movements and connect with like-minded people on the basis of passions and causes - all in mere seconds. This has fundamentally changed how this generation educates themselves and subsequently forms their own opinions, in all areas of their lives.
Gen Z is resourceful
Gen Z is not only aware of, but is actively utilizing, the countless opportunities the connected world offers. For example, data by Pew Research Center showed 95% of Gen Z have access to a smartphone, with many of them using connected technology to stay in touch with friends and family far away and express themselves, whilst the most entrepreneurial see the potential of using connected technology to make extra money online. As the first truly digital natives, they know all you need to start a business is an internet connection - and many of them are doing just that.
In the past, certain social, geographical and economic factors would have been a hindrance for the less advantaged, especially when it comes to kickstarting their entrepreneurial journey. Now, with streams of knowledge readily available, and the effects of COVID on young people’s career paths, data from Gem Consortium shows 54% of Gen-Zs are now seeking to pursue entrepreneurships, whilst over 15% of those aged 18-24 in the US have already actively engaged in starting a business. Now these young people are using social media to gain huge levels of exposure and opportunity, building their own brands from the ground up, with little or no physical footprint, thanks to the time and effort they spend growing their online presence.
For example, as part of Deutsche Telekom’s recent #WhatWeDoNext campaign, the brand highlighted the work that 23 year old Anna-Laura Kummer from Austria has been doing in the field of sustainable fashion. This young entrepreneur has been using technology and social media to not only launch her own sustainable clothing label, but also to advocate for more sustainable business practices, industry wide. Another collaborator, 19 year old Philipp Kalweit, is a renowned ‘white hat’ hacker and IT security expert. Having taught himself to code at an early age, he went on to found his own cyber security business, earning himself a place on the Forbes “30 under 30” list.
Gen Z is driving innovation
The influence of Gen Z is increasingly apparent within the workplace, as they start to drive businesses in directions that no one could have anticipated, solving increasingly difficult problems and fueling new innovations.
Much of the evolution of business models will happen through the lens of Gen Z. Not only are they already familiar with the tools used within businesses, but they are utilizing the latest connected technologies to be able to participate and collaborate remotely. This in itself is a huge shift from the traditional 9-5 office based models that so many workplaces have always been based on. It will be interesting to see how the disruptions to traditional working models brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic will play out, especially with Gen Z as a driving force for change.
As evidenced by the scale of the ‘FridaysforFuture’ movement across the world, this younger generation demands more. More from Governments, more from businesses, more from brands. And they show a huge level of digital optimism when it comes to the role of connected technology in their lives.
Some of our own research conducted this summer shows that 75% of European Gen Z believe that social media supports them in standing up for what they believe in, whilst 86% say that connected technology has an important role to play in addressing global sustainability issues.
Gen Z is a force for change
When this commitment to their principles is tested, that is where we start to see some really exciting examples of the potential of youth and their belief in the power of connected technology to drive forward innovation.
Feeling the need to be ‘always-on’ online creates pressure to change appearances, follow trends and buy new clothes more often than needed. At the same time, many young people feel strongly about the sustainability impact, from ethical manufacturing to waste etc. This has led to a huge boom in alternative consumption patterns, with many opting to rent, resale and thrift. Some clothing brands now offer subscription based services that allow customers to rent items for a monthly fee. Thriving platforms like Depop (part social feed, part fashion marketplace app) offer a ‘more inclusive, diverse and less wasteful’ approach to shopping.
Dress-X has taken this reaction against unsustainable ‘fast fashion’ one step further. Describing itself as ‘the first international digital fashion multi-brand retailer’, the site features a range of digital fashion collections from well-known contemporary brands and 3D designers. All available to purchase, these items exist only digitally, allowing buyers to wear the latest looks with zero impact on the environment, all made possible through the power of connected technology.
If anything defines Gen Z it seems to be tenacity, creativity and an unwillingness to accept the status quo when they can envision a better future for everyone.
This is the reason businesses across the world must look to support the younger generation, whilst also learning from them and their unbiased ways of looking at the world. With all this said, we should all be very excited to see what Gen Z accomplishes next - this is why, at Deutsche Telekom, we are most definitely here for this generation, and very excited to see what they do next.
- Wolfgang Kampbartold, Vice President International Market Communications, Deutsche Telekom.
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