Snowflakes in Summer
For the past month, Jericho Chambers has been taken over by Generation Z, so excuse me while I check my Snapchat and update my Instagram #nofilter.
As part of our WikiWorkLab – a work experience programme created in partnership with our client the CIPD – 24 individuals (aged 15 – 21) have been roaming these halls. Over three weeks in July and August, they took part in discussions, book clubs and research trips telling us what they think about the future of work.
The WikiWorkLab began life as a way to provoke thinking and ensure the views of young people were heard by Future of Work community alongside MPs, academics, business leaders and the HR community. It was also a chance for Jericho and the CIPD to start putting into practice the ideas and challenges highlighted by the skills gap between school and the workplace. By creating a working programme that centres around learning and active outputs (not photocopying and making tea), the WikiWorkLab was an ideal chance for students to investigate what work means before having to jump into it.
What did they do?
Hailing from a range of schools, colleges and universities across London and the UK, the cohort visited a diverse group of organisations including the House of Commons, CIPD, Network Rail, Tesco, KPMG, Bounceback (a social enterprise working out of Brixton Prison) and School 21 (an innovative free school in Stratford E15). The trips offered a chance to examine what the working world looks like today and experience first-hand how it’s changing.
Expert visiting speakers took the group on a whirlwind tour through leadership, politics, activism and citizenship. Speakers included James Alexander, Zopa; Christine Armstrong, Jericho Chambers; Sam Bowman, The Adam Smith Institute; Rupert Bruce, Clerkenwell Consultancy; Peter Cheese, CIPD; Deborah Doane, Jericho Chambers; Paul Epstein QC, Cloisters; Claire Fox, Institute of Ideas; Andrew Gunn, Jericho Chambers; Matthew Gwyther, Management Today; LoughlinHickey, Blueprint for Better Business; Indy Johar, Impact Hub and Project 00; DanKieran, Unbound; Neal Lawson, Compass;Filip Matous, Author, “How to get your website noticed”; Professor Cliff Oswick, Cass Business School; Jules Peck, B Team; Robert Phillips, Jericho Chambers; Cleo Sheenan, Forward Institute; Stefan Stern, High Pay Centre; Nick Sunderland, Why projects; Rebecca Trenner, Springwise; Charlotte West, Business in the Community; Sam Whitaker, CIPD
What we learned from them
As Christine Armstrong writes here, the question “so what are yooooou going to be?” has been striking fear for generations. But for this latest group to hit our workforce the stakes seem much higher. With formative years shaped by recession, terrorism, rising house prices and corporate scandal, Gen Z are likely to be worse off than their parents – and they know it. Not surprisingly, the spectre of student debt hung over many conversations. When it came to career choices, pragmatism is a factor. As many agreed, “how can I be expected to hold out for the “right” job when I’ll leave university with £44,000 worth of debt? Ideals are all well and good but, any job will do.”
Work vs a “Job”
Part-time jobs – whether in retail, restaurants or hospitality are seen solely as a source of income. Many feel little or no sense of responsibility when working them – and expect little responsibility from their employer. In essence, a ‘job’ is something that is done for money, whilst work is what you do (and get paid for) when you are trying to forge a career.
They believe companies should have a social purpose, flat management structures and encourage creativity and collaboration. They want mutual responsibility between them and their employer but have a cynical view of major corporates, especially those whose public persona falls below their ideal. While they were surprised and optimistic on their visits to large organisations that were trying to change from within, their cynicism is palpable (during a session with the Forward Institute, large organisations ranked the lowest on their list of trusted institutions which included the government, the army, banks, news media and the police). As Robert Phillips writes here, there can be little wonder why trust levels in business – let alone in politics – sit at such a low. As one participant said, “It appears to me that the “real” motives of business in today’s society are incompatible with the attitudes of society at large…for the time being things don’t look good.”
They have a sense of entitlement – to an opinion, to information, to the digital world and even to being late. In one of the discussions, Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas and author of “I Find That Offensive”, challenged this generation’s attitude to conflict. This Generation don’t like being the butt of a joke. Their views – including those concerning the workplace – are informed less by experience and more from what they have been exposed to through the digital channels they obsessively consume. This can lead to knee-jerk responses and black and white answers. Claire believes that this attribute leads to hyper-sensitivity and is the enemy of resilience – a trait so needed in today’s changeable workplace — but, as Claire explains here, this particular problem is one we ourselves (Gen X,Y and the baby boomers) have created.
Their goals for the next 5-10 years blend the self-centred and the altruistic. They want travel and to be independent, and they also want to be personally responsible for improving conditions of people across the world. The group were divided between the optimists and the pessimists (a title of debate they chose for their final presentation). While some think automation will free up more thoughtful and interesting work, others see opportunities drying up. Some are heart-broken by Brexit while others see this as the moment to re-write the rulebook (read food activist, Jericho Partner and WikiWorkLab speaker, Deborah Doane’s take on this here)
Soft skills trump technical expertise
The attributes they believe to be most important to achieving their goals are often “softer skills”: communication, open mindedness and emotional intelligence – as opposed to specialist knowledge and/or technical capability.
They’re not learning this in School
“I learnt in these last two and a bit weeks what school and university hasn’t taught me at all” – Arun (aged 20). These young people do not feel prepared for the world of work. Skills we know to be imperative for the next generation – such as entrepreneurship, resilience, presentation skills, public speaking and even being able to do your own accounts – are not part of the curriculum. They feel cheated by the “exam-factory” yet – as it’s the only system they’ve ever known – terrified to try another way.
Only time will tell how Gen Z’s arrival into the workplace will shake up the status-quo. Our group of young individuals gave us a glimpse of a generation that is interesting, interested, digitally native, sceptical about big institutions and endowed with a sense of cynicism, pragmatism and entitlement, determined to survive the rat-race. The world of work had better watch out.
The full essays, videos and blog posts from our participants will be published via www.futureworkishuman.org over the next month.