Figuring Out Generation Z and its Role in Public Service

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Everyone knows the members of Generation Z grew up with cell phones and digital technology at their fingertips. They’re hyper-connected and active on social media platforms, and they have their own opinions and beliefs surrounding public service. Below, we debunk myths, highlight defining events, and explain how to engage the youngest generation in public service.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University Online Master of Public Administration program.

How public service can tap into Gen Zs’ influence and involvement tendencies.

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Chapter 1: Debunking Myths and Stereotypes

U.S. Figures for Gen Z

“Gen Z” is the nickname given to those born between 1996 and 2010. There are 61 million people that fit this category, and they will represent 40 percent of consumers by 2020.

41 percent of Gen Z are children of color, and 35 percent are growing up in single-parent families. 96 percent of its members have health insurance, and there has been a 62 percent decrease in the teen birth rate since 1996.

Misconceptions vs. Reality

Gen Z’s eight-second attention span has made headlines and attracted criticism. However, this shortened attention span has led Gen Z to develop the ability to quickly filter information, as they rely on trusted influencers to highlight the most relevant news and entertainment. Once they find a topic or hobby that interests them, they quickly become focused and committed.

Also, there is a debate on whether Gen Z’s reputation of being the most connected generation to date also translates to them being obsessed with technology. However, Gen Zers manage their personal and professional brands online via social media profiles. They also filter out negative characteristics and work hard online to demonstrate offline perseverance. That said, Gen Z struggles with the tension between using social media to build a personal brand and standing out professionally.

There have been additional reports that have been quick to label Gen Z as the generation of entrepreneurs. Yet while Gen Z views entrepreneurship as a way to be independent and create sustainable businesses as opposed to making it big in, say, Silicon Valley, other research has shown Gen Z to be “risk-averse, practical, and pragmatic.”

Chapter 2: Influence and Involvement

Generation Z has clearly been influenced by recent events and have taken bold steps to get involved.

Defining Events

Gen Z was heavily influenced by 2016’s election results. Though most Gen Zers were not old enough to vote, social media and constant communication offered them access to information and the opportunity to have its voice heard online. This generation was also influenced by the legalization of gay marriages and the LGBTQ rights movement, as studies indicate that the generation is more liberal on these beliefs and other topics like marijuana use than Millennials and Gen-Xers. Gen Z’s formative years under President Barack Obama also inspired them to shift toward greater government diversity. Their access to social media gave them equal access to information on war-torn countries and their refugees, which helped shape their own views on divisive political issues. Finally, Gen Z’s close association with the shock of school shootings has led to protests demanding stricter gun control laws.

Chapter 3: Tips to Engaging Gen Z

To know how to engage Gen Zers in public service, it’s first important to understand what they value.

Key Characteristics

Gen Zers seek out and value mentorship, as they recognize the need for support in order to overcome obstacles in their professional lives. They also strive to be socially conscious, as they seek out employers with values and missions aligned with their own beliefs. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of passion within their careers, and they have no problem quitting their jobs if they feel their place of employment delivers a poor work-life balance, low job security, or a disconnection from their passions. Finally, Gen Zers pursue learning opportunities, and recognize the need for better mental health support to grow and develop.

Driving Engagement in Public Service

There are several ways to connect with Gen Z via public service, if you know how to do so. For instance, Gen Z prefers visually engaging graphics and videos to text-heavy content, and they expect you to be digital in ways such as social media engagement and having a responsive website. Gen Z also thrives with volunteer opportunities, so it’s wise to invite them to participate in your organization’s efforts by offering ways for them to make an impact. Additionally, it’s important to show Gen Zers the full picture of your nonprofit organization and encourage them to consider a future in public service. Advocating current, hot topic issues is another way to connect to Gen Z, as they’re inclined to get involved in personal issues. Visiting college campuses and engaging with Gen Z in their environment is also effective. Finally, you should consider taking a global approach to Gen Z engagement, as technology and social media has allowed them to have a great appreciation for diversity.

Conclusion

Today, more voices are speaking up and speaking out on social issues. Many of those voices belong to Generation Z. For organizations clear on what young advocates are passionate about, engaging the youngest generation in public service shouldn’t be too difficult.

Learn more about Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration.