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Thinking of the Next Generation

Thinking of the Next Generation

What are the five “suckiest” things about being an adult? Taxes, working a 9-5 job, minivans, responsibilities and cubicles, at least according to a survey of high school students cited by Steelcase’s Rick Mohr. Sounds about right to me. Seventh on the list was dying, so cubicles, his life’s work and company’s focus, were two worse than death, noted the consultant for the office furniture manufacturer.

Mohr was speaking to an audience of approximately 200 attendees at the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management’s Critical Issues Conference about the next generation of workers and what the office (and cafeteria) of the future might look like.

Who are these workers and what do they want? Today they are mostly from Gen Y, which continues to make up a growing share of the workforce as Boomers reach the twilight of their careers.

If you want more insight into what drives some of those Millennials, read about David Schwartz and a group of college students fighting for sustainable food purchases across college campuses Gen Y, the experts say, seeks authenticity, convenience and shared experiences in their food and life.

But Mohr was really talking about Gen Z, the next generation, born after 1996. They’ve been surrounded by tablets, smartphones and WiFi from the day they were born and now feel like they can work from anywhere. They want a job that means something; collaboration regardless of location, rank or job title; and instead of a work-life balance, they want work-life integration.

“We need to start paying attention now,” he says, because by 2020, up to eight percent of the workforce will be these Gen Zers.

I had the chance to meet several students at Ohio State last month while I was visiting foodservice director and incoming NACUFS president Zia Ahmed and his impressive dining operation. I didn’t ask their age, but I’d guess they were born in the early to mid ’90s.

I had breakfast with a handful of students very involved with Zia’s operations and their passion for the job, focus on a career path and interest in health and wellness were far different than my vague recollections of college. I walked those same sidewalks in Columbus 20 years before with far less direction. Later I had lunch with two members of the Resident Halls Advisory Council, who spoke about the importance of trying new, ethnic and authentic foods.

What intrigues me is our readers in high school and college cafeterias are right now feeding and serving this next generation that our colleagues in healthcare and corporate offices will soon be employing and building offices and cafeterias to satisfy.

I’m curious if you’ve noticed any changes in this year’s class of high school seniors or college freshmen. How are they different from those five or 10 years ago?

I bet the general manager of any hotel or restaurant would love to know and so would the hospitals and businesses that will be employing your students in a few years. You have incredible insight into our future and from what I’ve seen, it looks pretty good.

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