Managing Generation Z Students in Summer Internships

By Lauren Beam (’07), Associate Director, Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
Originally written as a guest post on the WFU Mentoring Resource Center Blog on March 13, 2018.

Are you prepared to welcome Generation Z interns into your workplace this summer? Generation Z, individuals born between 1996 and 2012 who 3 young professionals working at an outside tablenow comprise the majority of traditional-aged students on our college campuses, will be the students filling your internship slots and seeking to learn from and contribute to your organization.

As a generation who has witnessed a financial recession, the housing market collapse, and the student loan debt crisis, approximately 38% of Generation Z plan to work during college in order to be more financially secure and prepared for their future. These students value developing real world job skills through internship experiences. As an employer of student interns, how can you best manage their student internship and job experiences to support their growth and development? And how might you benefit from their generational strengths to further improve your own company or organization?

Encourage them to utilize their strengths and explore their interests.
Generation Z is very passionate about making a difference in the world through social impact and solving problems to make everyday challenges easier. Discover what they value, particularly as it relates to the work and mission of your organization. Once you have an idea of what motivates them, offer your interns opportunities to work on projects in which they will become invested. Present them with real problems and challenges that they can solve for the company or your clients. Students in Generation Z are characterized by their curiosity, including their desire to learn new things, research, find solutions, and build their expertise.

Tap into their unique perspectives and skill sets to further your organization’s goals.
If you thought Millennials were tech-savvy, wait until you see Generation Z in action. They are highly skilled in using multiple screens, apps, and digital platforms all at once. As interns, their knowledge and experience with technology such as social media and videos (think: YouTube, live streaming, creation and editing) could be a huge asset to your business. Give these students opportunities to offer fresh ideas and to teach other employees how to use new forms of technology.

Generation Z is also the most diverse, multicultural generation we have ever had. They are not restricted by location as they connect and communicate with others on a global scale. Consider how this perspective might influence your ability as a company to better engage with international and diverse clients and business partners. And, provide opportunities for your interns to see how your organization fits into your business industry on a global scale.

Create learning moments and give feedback to teach skills they haven’t yet acquired.
While Generation Z interns can bring great strengths, skills, and perspectives to your organization, they still have a lot to learn. As their manager, there are three key areas of growth which you can help them acquire through feedback and experience:

  • They lack situational awareness. While their tech savviness can be a strength, it can also be their downfall as they are too regularly tied to their devices. Point this out to them, particularly if they are constantly on their phone during meetings or other important work conversations.
  • They need to improve their public speaking and communication skills. As speed communicators, this generation prefers to use emojis, videos, and texting to interact with others. In order to be successful in the professional world, we know these young adults need to develop their communication skills, both written and verbal. Find opportunities to give feedback and allow them to practice these skills in a supportive environment.
  • They need to learn how to build relationships. Emphasize the importance of relationship-building throughout the internship experience. This is a lifelong skill that students will need both personally and professionally as they build their network and find mentors along the way, and this goes beyond the connections that they are making in the online world. Be a connector between your interns and other colleagues at your organization or within your industry. Help them set up lunch meetings or informational interviews. And, be a role model for these students as you build and engage with your own network of relationships.

Want more information on building relationships and working with Gen Z? Check out these resources and recommended reads:
Gen HQ, The Center for Generational Kinetics
Get Ready, Here Comes Generation Z, Lauren Beam, Huffington Post, April 11, 2017
Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials, report by Sparks & Honey agency
Modify Your Mindset to Mentoring Generation Z, Lauren Beam, Huffington Post, September 12, 2017

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