A deep understanding of demographic trends is key to any entrepreneur’s success. It can help them anticipate consumer behaviour, create better sales strategies, and identify new opportunities in their marketplace.
But developing demographic knowledge isn’t something you do once, like learning how to ride a bike. With each new generation and shift in pop culture, human beings reinvent themselves — necessitating product and marketing changes. These changes can pose challenges for businesses, which often struggle to adapt and stay relevant.
One of the latest challenges I believe entrepreneurs should prepare for is the disillusionment of Gen Z (1995 - 2012), a demographic that will radically change how businesses, and even entire economies, operate in the future.
A brave, bright-eyed generation
Generation Z, iGen, or cenntenials refers to people who were born between 1995 and 2012. They’re optimistic and technologically savvy individuals who want fulfilling careers that positively impact society.
Unfortunately, their expectations may not be tempered for today’s world — not unusual for someone in that age group.
“35% of Gen Z students expect at least one job offer by the time they graduate from college.”
Another factor working against Gen Z (besides a very competitive job market) is the fact that they have the least work experience of any post-WW2 generation.
“Generation Z is entering the workforce with less job experience than previous generations. Only 19% of 15- to 17-year-olds in 2018 reported working during the previous calendar year, compared with 30% of millennials in the same age group in 2002. In 1968, nearly half of baby boomers (48%) reported working in the previous year when they were between 15 and 17 years old.”
Indeed.ca, one of the highest-traffic employment websites in the world, recently suggested that new graduates should “prepare for slower-than-normal hiring and onboarding” and “consider short-term or unexpected work in the interim” like warehouse, grocery store, and food delivery jobs.
Logical advice, but hardly what Gen Z wants to hear.
Dr. Corey Seemiller, a Gen-Z expert, defined [Gen Z] as having a great desire to change the world and make it a better place.
“They want jobs that are fulfilling, tap into their passions, and situated in organizations that align with their social values,” she said.
Interestingly enough, Gen Z may be more willing — and capable — than previous generations to create fulfilling jobs themselves.
A new age of entrepreneurship
Generation Z has been mentally conditioned by economic uncertainty. Many of them saw their parents or other family members struggle during the Great Recession, and now they’re witnessing it play all over again with COVID-19.
After witnessing millions of layoffs for a second time in 2020, it’s no surprise why 41% of Gen Zers plan to become entrepreneurs, according to Entrepreneur.com. Their faith in the corporate ladder has been shaken. And rightly so. It excites the heck out of me to see such a high percentile of this demographic interested in entrepreneurship, and their characteristic optimism should bode well if they pursue it.
Gen Z’s innate independence and desire for meaningful work, combined with unfavourable macroeconomic conditions, could usher in a new age of entrepreneurship. They have the technological literacy — and more importantly, the willingness to sacrifice — to succeed in the remote work world.
Alexandre Daillance, a Gen-Z expert and fashion designer, said people of his generation will likely get married later because they’re more focused on their careers.
“If you get married, you’re not going to get married as young,” he said. “You’re maybe going to get married in your 30s instead of your late 20s.”
This is not to say that all Gen Zers will go on to become entrepreneurs, or that they even want to. The oldest Gen Zer would be 25 today — meaning that many of them are just beginning to discover what they want to do in life. One’s dreams and aspirations naturally change as time goes on.
What’s important to recognize instead is that Generation Z — which made up 40% of U.S. consumers in 2020 according to Fast Company — is entering the workforce at one of the worst possible times in history. They’re bound to experience some form of disillusionment, confusion, and anxiety as they come to grips with the post-COVID-19 world. This presents an incredible opportunity for brands, from both a business and humanitarian perspective.
Businesses that can help shepherd Generation Z through uncertain times, achieve independence, and find meaning are poised to grow their business whilst fulfilling this demographic’s mantra of making the world a better place.
Generation Z will ask more of brands
Generation Z will face challenges in the years ahead — much of it due to factors outside their control. That said, I have high hopes for Gen Z; as Viktor Frankl put it in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Brands that help Gen Z face this challenge head on will earn not only their business, but their loyalty as well.