undergrad intern career

6 big differences in undergrad intern career habits-and what it means for colleges and universities

The differences between Generation Z and Millennials as they enter the workforce are staggering, and undergrad interns are exhibiting these new differences. So how should higher ed respond?

There’s a new generation in town and it’s one that institutions and employers better get ready for, because it’s 23 million strong and will be flooding the workforce by the end of the decade.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Generation Z; a confidence-filled group that doesn’t want to miss a thing, has the shortest attention span of any generation and isn’t quite as open as its predecessors–the millennials–from whom they learned that not everything needs to be shared online.

“If you try to treat those in Generation Z (born in the mid to late ‘90s, mostly to Generation X parents) like you treated Millennials (born in the early ‘80s to mid ‘90s, mostly to Baby Boomer parents), it will backfire on you,” says Matt Stewart, co-founder of College Works Painting. “This generation is unique. And now they are starting to enter the workforce.”

Learning from Undergrad Interns

Thanks to his role at College Works Painting, which offers internships that help undergraduate students gain real-life business management experience, Stewart has gained a first-hand look at both the Millennials and Generation Z. And there certainly are differences between the two:

1. They Prefer Social Privacy

Tip: Create in-class-only digital spaces for peer interaction and group work; contact students via formal channels

According to best selling author and generations expert David Stillman, you won’t find those in Generation Z frequenting Facebook or Twitter as much as their predecessors. Keenly aware of software monitoring, they are more likely to share their worlds on apps such as Snapchat or Instagram. Often dubbed Digital Natives, Millennials are much more likely to share their lives in the open on platforms such as Facebook.

Also, though Generation Z children were raised in classrooms that focused on diversity and collaboration, they tend to be more private than Millennials, perhaps as a result of seeing many of the downfalls of previous generations in the Great Recession.

2. Connection to the Real-World is More Important

Tip: Update curricula as often as possible to current events and pop culture

Being culturally connected is more important to those in Generation Z than to Millennials, with many more Gen Zers suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) than Millennials.

However, Stewart doesn’t see this as a hard and fast rule and says the experience Generation Z employees have at College Works Painting–and the impact they pride themselves on having–is much the opposite of FOMO. An example that Stewart says other companies can follow.

3. Attention Span is Practically Non-Existent 

Tip: Focus on engagement and variation in presentation

Those in Generation Z have grown up with smart phones, tablets, 3-D, 4-D and 360-degree photography just to name a few of their norms. According to Stillman, keeping the attention of a Gen Zer is harder than ever. Their average attention span is eight seconds, compared to the 12-second attention span of Millennials.

(Next page: 3 more learning takeaways from undergrad interns)