What changes are needed to maximise aviation training for Generation Z? Looking left field - or even left court - can help provide the answers.

British tennis player Emma Raducanu, who became the first qualifier to win the U.S. Open, offers a brilliant case study for aviation training leaders looking to get the most from the tech savy, next generation.

Since Raducanu's 2021 breakthrough win in New York, she has gone through six coaches in less than two years as form and injuries have sent her tumbling down the rankings.

The 21-year-old, playing at the Australian Open this week, attributed her continued coaching changes to her relentless questioning and the coaches' inability to keep up with her inquiries. The Brit emphasised her need to understand the "why" behind training methods, highlighting her proactive and inquisitive approach.

"I ask my coaches a lot of questions," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"On certain occasions they haven't been able to keep up with the questions I've asked and maybe that's why it ended.

"It's something I've always done. I keep provoking and asking questions to coaches and challenging their thinking as well. I'm not someone that you can just tell me what do and I'll do it, I need to understand why and then I'll do it."

This revelation aligns with the findings of First Officer Ian Taggart, a Boeing 787 pilot for TUI Airways, whose research challenges the widely accepted notion of Generation Z as solely tech-savvy and introverted.

Taggart's study emphasises the preference of Generation Z for face-to-face communication and facilitated learning environments, where they can interact with peers and receive feedback in a less confrontational manner.

Drawing parallels between Raducanu's coaching preferences and Taggart's research, a holistic picture emerges. Both highlight the significance of interpersonal communication and a more collaborative coaching approach for Generation Z. Don't just expect these young people to do what you ask, they first want to know why you want them to do it.

In the aviation sector, Taggart's research advocates for moving beyond the assumption that technology alone is the key to engaging Generation Z. While this generation is the first digital natives, born into the established internet era, don't think they want to spend their entire time immersed in tech

Generation ZInstead, Taggart argues that fostering an environment that encourages face-to-face communication and facilitates group learning can yield better results.

"We found that Generation Z would often group together in their own social circles and meet face-to-face for lots of reasons, particularly that's around facilitation," he told CAT.

As the aviation industry grapples with training the next generation of flight crew, these insights underscore the need for adaptable coaching strategies. Integrating the preferences of Generation Z, characterised by curiosity, a desire for understanding, and a preference for active participation, is crucial for the industry's future success.

Gen Z is carrying the mental scars of the Covid pandemic, multiple wars, global inflation and many other factors. They have a different view of the world, rightly prioritising their mental health. 

Already, 2024 has been tagged the year of the bucket list lifestyle, with Gen Z'rs entering the work force with an opening thought of "how do you live?" rather than the mantra of "how do you make a living?" that came before.  A solid career job with a gold watch at the end? No thanks, I'm going to live and work flexi time from my van while I travel and see the world!

Register for our Webinar: Student Pilot Recap: Elevating Gen Z Voices in Aviation Training

While some might agree with actor Jodie Foster's assertion that Generation Z "can be really annoying to work with",  work with them we must, to learn and also get the best out of them to fill the huge number of pilot, cabin crew and maintenance vacancies coming up.

While answering multiple questions might be tiring and taxing for under pressure instructors keen to get through the syllabus, it does show an engaged cohort keen to learn. Surely, that's a positive? 

By understanding and embracing the unique qualities of Generation Z, applying the lessons from Raducanu's experiences and Taggart's study, the aviation training sector can effectively bridge generational gaps and prepare the next cohort of skilled aviation professionals.

We are delighted that Ian will be part of our panel discussion for our March webinar, exploring Generation Z Flight Crew.

The webinar will take place in our Aviation Training Leader Forum, our private online community platform that provides Heads of Training and other aviation leaders with a space to connect, collaborate and solve problems as a community.  Sign up now.

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