IPMA International Project Management Association
5 June 2019 / 9:00

How do we reach Generation Z people and involve them more in projects and project management?

During the last couple of months we increasingly see young people, people of the Generation Z, to express their opinions and desires about the future developments. A good example is Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl who, at the age of 15, began protesting about the need for immediate action to combat climate change and has since become an outspoken climate activist. Or the YouTuber Rezo in Germany, who published a few days before the 2019 European Parliament elections a video, in which he said, that essential political positions – especially those of the established parties – were destroying “our lives and our future”. He accused the governing conservative alliance for a range of unsustainable policies: inactivity in politics of global warming, making politics for the rich, war and internet censorship. His video went viral, received more than 13 million views within the first eleven days and triggered a broad social debate… Towards the end he stated: “You always say that young people should be political, in which case you have to get to grips with it when they think your politics are shit.” Other examples are the protests of young people in the United States of America against the proliferation of weapons in their country, leading to an increasing number of mass shootings, or the Remain protests in London, asking to remain in European Union, or the “Fridays 4 Future” protests…

The Generation Z is increasingly expressing their opinion and spread it through social media. Influencer on social media reach millions of followers, in seconds, if they have something to say that is of interest of their followers. Established parties, other generation´s people or companies are surprised of the speed and the power of those opinions… and do not really know how to respond to it…

During a roundtable at the Headquarters of the German Project Management Association (GPM), in parallel to IPMA´s Project Management Championship, a divers group of people discussed how young people could be engaged better in the growing field of projects and project management.

What seems to be attractive for young people:

  • Networking with other people; staying connected via social media
  • Experiencing international and intercultural exchange of people
  • Learning from experienced project managers and getting guidance
  • Finding attractive projects and job opportunities through networks
  • Getting acknowledged for what they are, do or have to say…

What is less interesting for young people:

  • Becoming a “member” and committing themselves to a traditional (PM) association
  • Fulfilling tasks that somebody else has defined and where they have no influence
  • Work in traditional organisational settings with functional silos and hierarchies
  • Following leaders, values or strategies that do not fit to their own desires
  • Doing the same, over and over again, and over a long period of time

During the roundtable it was concluded that projects are a great thing to engage in for young people. However, projects should bring challenges for personal growth and development, they should give enough space for young people to (self-)organize and “do it their own way”. Experienced people should support, coach, lead and unleash the potentials of young people. Recognition and acknowledgment are important elements of leadership, multi-cultural collaboration, networking and flexible working hours, work autonomy etc. The latter is opposed to the traditional ways of managing projects, agile working and organisational settings seems to be more attractive to the younger generation. Careers of people in the world of projects isn´t perceived to be a “ladder” but a puzzle of many changes, from projects to line functions, doing different things with different people over different periods of time… Sabbaticals are interesting for travelling the world, learning new subjects or caring for the family. Part-time contracts or even freelancing, job-hopping or click working are the new normal for young people.

What does all that mean for the profession and the professional bodies? It will become challenging to engage with the younger people or to make them engage with your association! The tradition view of engaging through a membership, which means that somebody commits her/himself with the association is perdu. Young people are carefully evaluating “what´s in for them” when engaging with an association. What is the offering? Can they satisfy the above mentioned needs through this engagement. Some just want to become part and collect information, network and wait until they feel, now something interesting is happening. Others may want to take part in (social) events, meet other people, exchange and network (inside or outside of the association). There are certainly others, who are willing to spend more time, support the activities of the association and spend more of their own time for the good of the association. In essence, offerings of the association should rather be a “menu” for different needs and people. Young people are open for a “small” membership fee, but expect the association to cover their cost for engagement. Besides financial fees, they expect the association to value the time spent for engaging with other people… Remuneration should be in time or in money (or in other service such as influencing others to join in etc.).

What´s interesting to younger people. During the roundtable we discussed the formats of “Fuck-up nights”, international events, “Working out Loud (WoL)” , Fishbowl sessions, onsite visits to projects with lessons learned or performing social projects, e.g. “Coaching4Development”, which was triggered by the IPMA Young Crew several years back. Universities could be local organisers of such activities, thus travel costs could be minimized. The term “member” seems to be outdated, we discussed terms such as “followers”, “associates”, “representatives” or “fellows” to suit better and express the different levels of engagement of people.

There is a lot to do, bridging the gaps between the traditional approach of professional bodies in the field of project management and the desires of the young generation (Generation Z). However, they want to shape their own future through projects, are self-confident about the ways they want to achieve that and only engage, if we take them seriously into account and involve them …



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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.