Following on from my recent post, Youth Work in a Time of Change, I wanted to share twelve insights I uncovered this year that will impact our understanding of Generation Z – young people aged 14 -21 years. The ideas are focused mainly on British young people; however, I believe there are cultural crossovers that relate to young people elsewhere in the world.
Some Board development activity for Trafford Youth Trust prompted my research; as did my on-going chairing of Circle Crew for Change Limited, the UK’s first ever youth mutual; and my continuing concern about the massive gap in youth policy here in the UK.
What, no youth policy?
Here’s a challenge. Google the government’s GOV.UK website today using the keywords Youth Policy and see what you find. I know you will find nothing that is recent that relates to informal education work with young people. In fact, today, the second item in the search list is dated July 2014 and is the Youth Justice Board Twitter policy.
To reinforce my view, I gave a keynote speech to the Army Welfare Service – Community Support Services annual conference in early November. I did a similar search the day before the speech using Youth Work as my search terms. That day I found roughly 40 items listed on the first page of my search. These were the items:
- Schools – 17
- NEET and EET – 8
- Apprenticeships – 2
- Childcare – 2
- International Development – 2
- Health/Well-being – 2
- Child Death – 1
- Child Sexual Exploitation – 1
- LGBT – 1 [and they didn’t even get the title right – LGBTQIA]
- Disabled and SEN – 1
- There were three other articles on the Princes Trust, Local Charities Day – 16 December, and the Evaluation of the Uniformed Youth Social Action Fund
Now, setting aside the vagaries of indexing, do you think I am making a point here?
Is no youth policy a bad thing?
Of course, it is! In my view, it is an absolute national disgrace!
The social condition of our young people is not clearly understood. And, neither is the impact that excellent, well-resourced informal education [read youth work] can and would make.
I lay out below what my research earlier in the year indicated. Noreena Hertz, writing in The Guardian on 19 March 2016, titled “Think the millennials have it tough”, prompted my thinking.
That thinking was then complemented by content from the World Health Organisation’s March 2016 Report, “Growing up unequal”. And further supplemented by material from “Young Blood”, a White Paper exploring Modern British Youth Culture, by an integrated creative agency known as Amplify, who have an interest in global youth culture from a consumer and brand perspective.
I then added to these insights from my observations of working in recent years with Generation Z young people through Circle Crew for Change, and other youth and community organisations.
12 Revealing Insights – though not all necessarily new!
- Technology is essential and multi-screening, and multi-tasking is common.
- They feel that life is hard and unequal. [The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) March 2016 report suggested that British teenagers are among the most troubled of 42 nationalities surveyed, only Macedonian and Polish teens are less happy with their lot.]
- They feel pressured by schoolwork and worried about the way they look.
- They live in a time characterised by the hangover of economic decline, job insecurity, increasing inequality and a lack of economic optimism.
- Asked whether they thought their lives were likely to be more of a struggle than those of their parents, their answer was an unambiguous yes; views included:
- 70% were worried about getting a job;
- 72% were concerned about debt and not just student loans;
- 70% were concerned about terrorism, not knowing a time when anything other than this existed, either in reality or virtually; and,
- 70% cite inequality as one of the issues that worry them greatly, as many as those who are worried about terrorism.
- They are profoundly anxious – the WHO recorded a threefold increase in the past ten years in the number of English teenagers who self-harm.
- They are deeply distrustful of establishment institutions doing the ‘right thing’.
- They feel the same way about government – only 1 in 10 trusts them to do the ‘right thing’.
- 92% believe that helping others is important.
- This generation does not consider that ‘society is fair and everyone has an equal chance’. Instead, they believe it is the colour of their skin, their sex, their parents’ economic status, and their social standing that will determine their future.
- They value authenticity and desire connection, either physical or virtual.
- They increasingly appreciate active co-creation, as it supports their desire to be self-sufficient.
I think Noreena captured it beautifully when she wrote, “This selfie-taking, yet unselfish, connected yet lonely, anxious yet pragmatic, risk-averse yet entrepreneurial generation of young people seem very different to those preceding them.”
So, what does this mean for us?
These reports and insights draw from relatively small samples of our Generation Z population. As such, they are not indicative of whole populations. However, they do represent, at least to my mind, some worrying trends, attitudes and thinking.
I shared my research with young people at Circle Crew. One committee member, Chloe, summed up their collective views rather succinctly. “That’s my life, John”, she said!
It was a fascinating counterpoint to how well I believe she and her peers have grown on our journey together over the past five years. But, therein lies the rub I guess. We have moved forward together.
We have moved forward together because myself and others were there to provide that. As public sector youth services continue to decrease around our nation, where does an increasingly significant burden fall, and how well do those carrying that weight fare in our awful policy and financial vacuum?
One final thought
As I undertook my research, I grew increasingly uncomfortable at just how much the insights resonated with me, particularly since checking them out with young people I thought I knew well. That left me with one particular question, and one which should resonate with you if you are in any way, shape or form engaging with Generation Z:
How well do you know them and how best will you respond to their needs, wants, and interests?
I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your youth work or leadership practice or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.
Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +447958765972.
I am always happy to listen and ready to help.
Thank you for reading.
 World Health Organisation researchers were particularly struck by how life satisfaction of those aged 11-15 had gone down everywhere surveyed.