The Gen Z spin
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 8, 8 November 2019, page no. 5
By 2028, it is predicted that 32 per cent of the workforce will be comprised of members of “Generation Z”, or more colloquially, “Gen Z” – the demographic cohort that is currently aged 24 and under. With specific reference to the teacher workforce of Queensland, 49.6 per cent of graduate teachers are under 25 years of age. As at June 2019, the QTU has 1,200 associate members. Of these, 574, or 47.8 per cent, are 24 or under.
It is imperative that teacher-related organisations seek to understand this emerging demographic of young teachers and recognise their values, why and how they engage, and their propensity for political activism. The Queensland Teachers’ Union must also consider and act on these factors, as the survival and longevity of any union is underpinned by strong membership.
The QTU, as a forward-thinking union, has committed to establishing the “The Gen Z Project”, a body of research which aims to examine the values, beliefs and attitudes of the Gen Z cohort, their needs and priorities, and the inextricable link between this group of young people and social media.
Throughout the research conducted to date, several key trends have emerged in terms of the defining characteristics of Gen Z. The research identifies that the members of this generation, which can be described as the first fully global generation, are connected through digital devices, and engaged through social media. They are, as a result, inherently individualist. Paradoxically, they crave community and a sense of belonging. By understanding this contradiction and its meaning, and this demographic overall, the QTU has the opportunity to harness this yearning for meaning and community, and direct it towards engaged activism and solidarity.
Furthermore, acknowledging the inextricable link between Gen Z and social media, and an understanding of Gen Z’s “mobile-first” behaviour, are pivotal to understanding their motivators. Social media arguably underpins everything about Gen Z and how they participate in their world.
This is a generation for whom social media has caused online relationship development to become a new generational norm, so is it a foregone conclusion that these platforms will play a pivotal role in activism, and that new forms of activism will begin to emerge and even be preferred? These factors must be considered in order to effectively engage this cohort of members and maximise opportunities to normalise activism.
In addition to the research conducted to date, to further seek to understand this cohort of young teachers, the “Gen Z Survey” has been completed by members and associate members under the age of 25. This survey has sought to understand the attitudes and values of Gen Z in terms of the QTU as a provider of social networking and belonging, social media and preferred styles of communication, and activism and what this might look like for this young cohort of QTU members. Interestingly, initial reviews of the data obtained have shown that the survey results support the findings from the research.
As the project continues in term four of 2019, the information obtained will inform a range of recommendations that will work to underpin and inform how the QTU can best engage this cohort of young members and encourage meaningful Union membership and activism.
How the findings of the Gen Z research project are implemented will be informed by the recommendations arising from the final report. Ultimately, in implementing the report findings and capitalising on learnings gained, the QTU will work to add a "Gen Z spin" to successfully and meaningfully engage the Gen Z cohort, and ensure our future membership is comprised of members who are engaged activists.