Digital badges can be one way to help L&D leaders meet the expectations of Gen Z.
by Jonathan Finkelstein
May 8, 2019
Generation Z — the generation following millennials — is already entering the workplace.
As companies welcome this new generation, one thing is already clear: Although members of Generation Z may be close in age to some of their millennial peers, their workplace motivations and goals are significantly different. While the millennial stereotype is one of a job-hopping worker eager to find a company with an aligned social impact orientation, initial surveys of Gen Z suggest they seek something else: financial and job stability.
As corporations think about how to recruit and retain this new generation, learning and development programs — particularly those that lead to advancement, greater job security or more opportunities in the labor market — will be key.
According to a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of talent developers say they plan on changing their learning and development plans to accommodate Generation Z workers. For a generation that has grown up online and surrounded by mobile technology, digital offerings will be an important part of any company’s learning plan. This is the generation, after all, that says they prefer texting work colleagues over any other form of communication. But digital alone won’t be sufficient. Learning needs to mean something, and learners want to be able to take their skills — and the proof of those skills — with them to their next job, and the one after that.
Digital badges — microcredentialing that serves as an online representation of the skills a learner has developed — are a perfect fit for new learning initiatives designed around this emerging generation. Here are three ways digital badges can help L&D leaders meet the expectations of Generation Z.
Creating Transparency Around Career Goals
Generation Z grew up watching their parents struggle through the Great Recession. They are also demonstrably worried about the long-term effects of student loan debt. In a 2017 survey of 500 high-school students, just 11 percent said they planned on taking on debt to go to college. The rest planned to work their way through school or attend a less expensive institution to avoid debt.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that surveys show that Gen Z is much more focused on financial security and getting ahead in the workforce than millennials are. A recent survey of 2,000 members of Generation Z found that nearly half say they are motivated to learn so they can be promoted. About 60 percent say they want to learn so they can receive a raise. More than one-third of Generation Z say they plan on starting to save for their retirement while in their 20s.
Members of Generation Z want to know where they are headed in their careers and how to get there. To recruit and retain this generation of self-starters eager for advancement, companies will need to become more transparent about how learning ladders up to new work opportunities. Connecting digital badges that demonstrate competencies to promotion expectations allows young workers to understand what is expected of them and how they can move toward those goals. It also illuminates an organization’s workforce planning objectives, making it easier for education and training providers trying to create pathways for Gen Z members to jobs the labor market demands.
Making Learning More Social
For a generation of true digital natives who have grown up learning to control their digital footprint and develop an online persona, digital badges provide an opportunity to highlight what they know in a familiar way. Growing up on social media platforms, members of Generation Z value fast feedback and the ability to share the things most important to them. Digital badges can be displayed and shared across a variety of online mediums, from social media (including professional networking sites like LinkedIn) to digital resumes or email signature lines.
Digital badges can also help make employee learning — and sharing what they have accomplished — more social. According to LinkedIn, more than half of all workers now value the ability to collaborate with instructors and other learners through online forums, groups or other digital means. Digital badges provide young employees with the language they need to have those discussions. And as individuals who came of age knowing how trusted influencers break through the noisy social media landscape, Gen Z employees armed with official, verified evidence of their achievements are proud to become brand ambassadors for the organizations with whom they affiliate.
Making Proof Portable
Generation Z wants ownership of how and when they learn, as well as ownership of those learning outcomes. This requires, first, that learning is both recognized and validated, and second, that it’s memorialized in a format that is sharable beyond the walls of their employer.
Digital badges allow learners to more easily show what they know and allow for greater flexibility in how they communicate what they have learned. Because the credentials live online, they can go with the learner wherever they go — an important consideration for a generation that has grown up alongside smart phones and storing everything in the cloud. Allowing learners to “own” their achievements in a way that transcends a current employer makes learning more valuable, turning skills into a currency recognized more broadly in the workforce.
While headlines may still be fretting about the wants, needs and habits of millennials, companies would be wise to recognize that there is a new and unique cohort of workers that should demand their focus. Generation Z has arrived, and companies must work to attract and accommodate this next generation of workers.