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What does the future hold for Generation Alpha?

November 15, 2017

Grant Thornton are running a series of breakfast talks on the Future, with speakers from Cranfield University. The first one recently was given by Joe Nellis, Professor of Global Economy on the future for Generation Alpha – ie the under 7’s and yet to be born, the next cohort following Generation Z, the 7 to 21 year olds.

Generation Z are facing a difficult financial situation, not of their making, with a concentration of wealth into the top 1% or fewer, increased parental dependency and increasingly likely to rent rather than buy their homes. They have less trust in institutions – politics, big business etc – and may be resentful of older generations for having left them in this position.

Joe warned us that nobody knows what the future will hold, but he identified a number of trends he saw continuing. Globally, Generation Alpha will be a smaller cohort because of falling birth rates, though increasing population will continue to put pressure on natural resources and raise issues of sustainability. So-called “Frontier economies”, a wave following today’s “developing economies” will emerge to become significant, and migration will continue to be a major pressure, with increased tensions in international relations. Urbanisation will also continue, with over half the world’s population living in cities.

Globally, Joe thought Generation Alpha would be richer than the previous generation as increased wealth was shared amongst a smaller cohort, but he had concerns about wealth inequality, as the owners of AI/robots took an increasing share. They will also be better educated, staying in education longer (Masters degrees as standard), becoming ever more specialist.  SAMI’s view had been of increasing wealth inequality within countries, but decreasing inequality between countries. This brings with it shifts in global power.

On the technology front, Joe expected to see virtually complete global connectivity (SAMI’s analysis challenges this idea because of the need for universal power supplies, which is a major issue), and continued development of AI and robotics into the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The word “digital”, as in “digital camera” will become redundant, as Alphas will never have known analogue technology. They will have short, 10-second, attention spans (“the age of impatience”), expect all services to be personalised, and challenge brands (and politics) to be more ethical.

In the world of work, they will be less loyal to one organisation, expecting work to be project based, more complex and with more choice. They will be more entrepreneurial and expect to make an impact. But they may also have to work longer, with more caring responsibilities as populations age.

Contrasted with Baby Boomers, Alphas will be visual rather than verbal; experiential in learning style rather than sitting and listening; operate collaboratively rather than in a command and control system; and value job flexibility over job security.

Responding to questions, Joe thought that Alphas would be less susceptible to fake news, as they would have the skills to challenge it better, and generally be more cynical about sources. There could be tensions between the hollowing out of work by AI, and demands for fairness and ethical behaviour. AI would also create new jobs – look at job ads today and you’ll many for “app developers” – a job that didn’t exist ten years ago.

And the basis of economic models could change, as GDP was no longer seen as a useful measure of society’s success –   Grant Thornton were already leading the way with the Vibrant Economy index, #vibranteconomy.

Joe’s slides are available on the Grant Thornton website.

It was interesting to compare Joe’s talk with the exercises SAMI has been doing with Grant Thornton, presenting drivers of change to various groups around the country as part of their Vibrant Economy programme.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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