May 18, 2022

3 Trends Shaping Gen Z and the Implications for Development

4 min read
By Khairunnisa Mohamedali PhD

Nearly half of graduate employers reported that they had received fewer applicants in 2022 than 2021. With graduate job vacancies 20% higher now than they were pre-pandemic, it’s crucial that organisations prioritise retention for their graduates in what is quickly becoming a candidate-driven market.

Parallel to the changing graduate market, we’re seeing a critical shift in what Gen Z expect from their employers. From trends spanning corporate transparency to mental health and inclusion, this so-called “generation activist” have a unique approach to the working world and they aren’t afraid to make their needs heard.

If used correctly, capitalising on these Gen Z-specific trends in development programme design can have a significant impact on retention and be a powerful differentiator for organisations in an increasingly saturated graduate job market.

From our award-winning Learning Design Team, here are three trends shaping Gen Z’s expectations of the world of work, and tangible design principles that will help your development programmes meet this specific audience’s core needs:

1) Reclaiming: Ravaging to Reckoning:

The pandemic has been a challenging time for Gen Z, with over half of 18 to 24-year-olds reportedly experiencing anxiety or depression related to COVID-19.

Even prior to the pandemic, there had been a notable shift in Gen Z taking up the mantle of activism and reckoning with the future that they’ve inherited from previous generations. This generation are comfortable challenging the status quo, and use protests and movements for change to combat their anxieties about the future, and create a sense of ownership for the world they want to live in. Think Greta ThunbergNaomi WadlerMalala Yousafzai.

We can see this manifested in bigger topics – like their stance on climate change, BLM, or Pride – to smaller issues, with this generation being comfortable taking a stand in their own homes (including crusading against their milk-drinking parents in one notable Oatly ad campaign).

What does this mean for your development programme?

  • Give your cohorts the opportunity to engage with self-led learning, like nano-videos or learning scrapbooks. Gen Z look for ownership and control of their destinies, and self-led learning allows them to do so in a structure they can use to play, learn, experiment, and push themselves.
  • Use storytelling in your development programmes, but crucially consider what kind of stories you need to include to resonate with Gen Z. Bringing a diverse range of perspectives will go a long way for Gen Z, who are happy to challenge the traditional perspectives and journeys of the generations before them.
  • Use peer-to-peer feedback. It’s no secret that feedback is vital for success at any level. But Gen Z are perceptive, they want to learn from their mistakes, and they relish honest, transparent feedback. Who better to hear feedback from than their fellow Gen Z peers?


2) The Curator Generation: Moving away from creation

As the first generation raised by the internet, Gen Z are accustomed to unprecedented amounts of information at their fingertips. As they navigate an age of information overload, some are beginning to revolt against the relentless creation of content, with even the most prolific Tik Tok stars of their generation reportedly suffering from “creation exhaustion”.

Driven by this trend is the realisation that Gen Z hold the power as the new generation of aesthetic connoisseurs. Some are choosing to curate instead of create, moving away from unbounded amounts of information to bounded, carefully collected and accessible information deposits; as a result, we’re seeing a rise in the number of platforms allowing people to curate content (i.e., re-organise ideas that already exist on the internet in unique ways).

What does this mean for your development programme?

  • Keep it simple and curated: Programmes should be designed to avoid content overload. It’s about presenting the right information at the right time. Avoid providing all your learning content at once, you need to show that you are curating and segmenting your learning content in an accessible way so your Early Talent will feel catered to.
  • Consider how you can provide shared spaces for your early talent to cultivate their expertise and learning together. By using community-led curation of content, your programme will feel more personalised to your audience as it can directly speak to them.
  • Design is your friend: As well as providing information at the right time, overinvest in how to present your learning content in the right way. Using visual and graphic design will go a long way to help your messaging reach this aesthetic-heavy generation. Carefully designed content will resonate more with Gen Z, and help their learning feel meaningful and accessible.


3) Opening Mindsets: Breaking with the old

Gen Z are global citizens, having grown up in a world that has been open to them, digitally, from a very young age. More than any generation before them, Gen Z understand the value of an expansive view of the world, moving away from traditional “narrow” mindsets from generations that didn’t have as much information at their disposal.

Gen Z want to know the values, scandals, and stances of organisations before investing time in them. They acknowledge that companies aren’t going to get everything perfectly right, but want to know that they’re trying (see examples from Tony Chocolonely and Lucy and Yak, two of many brands that have effectively incorporated transparency into their values).

What does this mean for your development programme?

  • Be transparent: Openness resonates with Gen Z. They’ll expect you to be clear about progression, pay, and where they fit in the grand scheme of the organisation. Lose the jargon and be ready to answer some difficult questions – the next generation will want to know the answers.
  • Include variety: Gen Z are adept information downloaders, having been raised on various forms of internet media. Ensure that your programme reflects this by providing a variety of experiences through different modes and methods, including videos, self-led learning sessions, and live events. It’ll be a more seamless transition for them from their lives outside of work and will enable them to bring their best selves to their roles.
  • Flexibility: Give your Early Talent the opportunity to experience the programme, and provide touch points to feedback what’s working and what isn’t. This lets your Gen Z know that they have a voice in your organisation – and, more crucially, that their voice is being heard.


Looking for more Development Programme Design tips? Drawing on behavioural science, futurist trends, and award-winning best practice, The Smarty Train’s on-demand webinar “Dial Up Your Programme” contains the frameworks you need to build your own impactful programme from scratch – regardless of audience, size, or discipline. Watch it here.


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