Like any average March morning, the sky felt heavy, it was slatey and brooding, the sun was feigning an effort to peep out from behind heavy dark clouds, and the air had a distinct chill in it. I had woken up feeling decidedly grumpy, and the mood stuck with me as I trudged through the houses, down towards WIFI Dornbirn. As a native English speaker here in Vorarlberg, I had been called upon to judge a regional English language contest for the students studying their Matura. I felt sorry for them already because my mood that morning made me a harsh critic of almost everything and everyone.
Pessimism 1 - Optimism 0
I have not been in a college for a very long time. As I approached the door, I thought I’d see students bumbling through corridors aimlessly, faces fixated on smart phones like youth-squads on crowded trains. My pessimism had set my bar pretty low that morning. I headed through the doors and was greeted with a surge of surprisingly bright and animated people, moving with purpose and spirit. The building was as fresh and as clean as the faces of the students that filled the corridors.
Pessimism 1 – Optimism 1.
I could not have been more wrong
As someone who is learning a new language, I expected a level of English from the students similar to my German, and I could not have been more wrong. These students shone. They wowed both me and the jury with their articulate, clear and engaging use of the English language. They played with words, inserted colloquialisms and idioms, and made jokes. The use of language from these kids was superb, their ability to engage with the judging panel was outstanding, and they were inspirational.
Pessimism 1 – Optimism 2.
They do not know a world without the Internet
However, it was not just their use of English that really caught my attention. What spiked my interest further was what they oh-so-fluently talked about. Each one, in turn, delivered a speech focusing on the importance of technology. They expressed a love for the computer sciences they learn, the apps they use, the connections they have to the world and the journeys they are on every day into technology and its infinite possibilities. The terminology and English they used was that of English discovered, used and shared online. They do not know a world without the Internet and having access to it; for example, their extensive use of social media is second nature to them and Google searches are conducted every minute.
When asked to talk about the future of industry in Vorarlberg, it was a passionate plea from them all for the region to embrace technology still further. What I was hearing from theses 16-18 year old students was a shared future vision for Vorarlberg. They highlighted the value of both tourism and industries, the need to celebrate the traditional while striving for continued innovation. The constant thread that ran through their hopes was that the future would be a digital one. These Generation Z, iGenners, Post-millennials have not only grasped technology with both hands, they see no limits to its potential and they want to build on efforts in digitisation to encourage social and economic development in Vorarlberg.
Generation Z is agile
They had ideas, suggestions and solutions: as Forbes Magazine states,
“Having grown up amid major innovation and social change, (Generation) Zs are inquisitive and globally aware. They’re already offering suggestions, solving problems, and proving their savvy, demonstrating how prepared they are.” Forbes Magazine, March 2016
This inquisitiveness, globalisation and adaptability make Generation Z agile. This agility makes them perfect for open and creative thinking about the future. This approach and way of thinking may seem alien to some business executives who are learning to adopt it, but this new generation are the perfect example of how, if you are open to anything, if you are free to explore and play with technology and its capabilities, magical things can and will happen.
Living the digital future that we only talk about
It is also prudent to bear in mind that they will be the next generation of employees and customers that all businesses will rely upon. Their ease with digital technology presents both opportunities and challenges for the companies that want to reach them. These impressive, powerful and vibrant people are living the digital future that we only talk about. They are actually doing it.
Digitisation is a verb, and we must learn from them because the digital future has already begun, it’s in multiple languages, its thinking fast and it’s here in Vorarlberg. To spend a morning with these students was an inspiration. It was an honour to see such passion and intelligence. It was heart-warming for me to see the huge potential in them and the digital future they will build for us all.
Pessimism 1 – Optimism 100