Cover: Generation Z and Joint Professional Military Education

Generation Z and Joint Professional Military Education

Final Synthesis Report

Published May 31, 2024

by Diana Dascalu, Theodora Ogden, Lucia Retter, Kate Utting

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Research Questions

  1. What are the key characteristics of Generation Z and how are they different from previous generations?
  2. To what extent do these characteristics manifest themselves in the military profession?
  3. What are the explicit and implicit demands on education arising from the unique characteristics of Generation Z professionals?
  4. What are the implications of the findings for the UK Defence Academy in relation to the student body, teaching methods and course delivery?

Every generation is shaped by different events, factors and trends, which can lead to different worldviews, values, opinions, attitudes and behaviours. Understood to include people born between 1996 and 2012, Generation Z is often considered to be different from the previous generations because it has grown up surrounded by technology, shaping how its members utilise information, communicate and interact with one another. Alongside other factors, some authors suggest this has resulted in differences in what motivates Generation Z career choices, their expectations about what education or employment must deliver, and how they relate to authority.

As part of ongoing academic support to the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, RAND Europe and King's College London jointly undertook a study to analyse how unique characteristics of Generation Z might influence joint professional military education. 

Key Findings

Generation Z are very comfortable with technology and engaged on social media while also seeing themselves as more withdrawn and facing mental health challenges.

  • Generation Z are seen as technologically savvy, shaping how they learn and problem solve. Many tend to be visual learners, frequently communicating through images, memes and emojis. However, though they are able to harness the internet and technological tools, they may need greater critical analysis tools to utilise these appropriately.

Generation Z members are less willing to join the military and may not stay long once they joined.

  • Peer-reviewed studies indicate that Generation Z focus more on job satisfaction and work-life balance than previous generations and are more concerned with career oriented and practical skills. In terms of joining the military, Generation Z tend to be less keen to join the Armed Forces than previous generations and much less likely to see their military career as a life-long commitment.

The student body in professional military education displays both generational characteristics as well as military specific characteristics which may be difficult to delineate.

  • As with any generation, military professionals represent a relatively small subset of the general cohort. Although they are influenced by the same macro trends shaping their generation, they will also display some unique characteristics that make them feel more closely connected to the intergenerational body of military professionals. The small sample of professionals surveyed in this study showed limited differences in terms of teaching and learning preferences despite representing different generations.

Recommendations

  • The Defence Academy should consider the needs of an intergenerational student body when designing courses.
  • The Defence Academy should continue embedding practical and current content and technology-enabled learning to educate new generations.
  • The Defence Academy could further explore what is unique about Generation Z in the UK military specifically, how to implement blended learning and the role of education in recruitment and retention.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and conducted by RAND Europe.

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