In recent years, there’s been a significant amount of clamor around the habits and impacts of the millennial generation. Headlines often read “Millennials Responsible for the Decline of Cereal”, “Millenials Are Why We No Longer Use Napkins”, and “Are Millennials Killing the Housing Market?” After being burdened with the blame of the death of almost anything, the millennial workforce has now moved away from the spotlight to make room for the next generation, “Gen Z”, which many believe are going to make significant societal disruptions- especially in the architectural and design workforce.
Gen Z, defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, and span elementary school and college students- the oldest of which are just now entering the workplace. In general, this generation tends towards individual expression and less collaboration than their Millennial predecessors, but are significantly more vocal and active in creating an equitable, diverse, and fair professional environment. Gen Z also distinctly brings a whole new skill set to the workplace, having grown up in a world where internet access and smartphones were a normal part of life. Being technologically savvy means they are consistently connected with one another in a digital world but are less inclined to feel that face-to-face interactions are as critical as prior generations. Gen Z-ers are realistic and grounded in the search for facts, are economically and socially hyper-aware, entrepreneurial, and strive for financial stability since, like Millennials, the world they are being raised in contains significant economic insecurities.
So what does this mean as the Gen Z-ers begin to make their way into the world of architecture? Perhaps most importantly, it means firms are going to have to adapt to their needs in order to retain talent and understand what will be most critical through the eyes of their clients. While Millennials pushed for the resurgence of flexible and remote work schedules, Gen Z is going to push more for salary transparency, social responsibility from their workplaces, and the fostering of their individual and entrepreneurial spirits.
One of the most important aspects that will transform the future of the architectural workforce is Gen Z’s innate ability to adapt to new technologies. Beyond the standard software updates that firms are accustomed to, Gen Z is able to learn completely new tools that will make standardization more commonplace, processes infinitely more efficient, and keep firms on the cutting edge. However, in contrast, Gen Z brings fewer interpersonal skills to the workplace. A survey in 2016 revealed that more than 90% of teenagers were worried about their lack of interpersonal skills, which at an architecture firm, is critical when collaborating with colleagues and sharing ideas with clients.
Beyond employing Gen Z-ers, we will one day be designing spaces that will be primarily occupied and utilized by this generation. Because they were raised with an iPhone in hand, the spaces that we design also need to be filled with technology and provide easily accessible digital access to the world. Enhanced video conferencing capabilities in the workplace, coffee shops with free WiFi, and aesthetic lighting and sound will all be critical for future spaces that Gen Z will enjoy. Additionally, Gen Z also appreciated spaces that feel authentic, dynamic, safe, and rooted in a meaningful message or branding. Because they’re such an ethnically-diverse generation, designers will need to consider the way that people experience communities and how that ties back to different cultures and traditions. By engaging with users, spaces will have the ability to become more inclusive and defined by the people who use them.
Gen Z will soon become the majority of our workforce, and our clients over the next fifteen years. Their expectations from employers, skillsets that they bring, and core values of design will significantly change the future of the built environment.