Summer Vacation for Gen Z: Balancing Skill Learning, Cash Earning and Having Fun

My younger stepdaughter, like many in Gen Z and across generations, has a fascination with Minecraft.   She can spend hours in the 3D worlds she has built, interacting with characters she has created and refining details such as adding additional glass windows to an elaborate castle she designed.  When I came across an ID Tech Camp titled “Intro to Java Coding with Minecraft” I knew I had a winner.This was not just about playing the game, but about the behind the scenes of creating it.  She was so excited that she agreed to let us sign her up, even with the full disclosure that with just one spot left she was going to be the only girl among 15 boys (see my previous blog article on Gen Z and Closing the Gender Gap for thoughts on that dynamic).

Summer vacation for Gen Z is in full swing.  It has evolved from the ‘lazy days of summer’ experienced by previous generations to more of a balancing act consisting of three platforms:  learning new skills, earning cash and having fun.  Gen Z has more options open to them at an earlier age, so the nature of how they spend their free time in the summer has shifted accordingly.

1. Learning new skills has become easier via camp and other summer programs: Camps are catering to the interests of Gen Z.  I spoke to the American Camp Association the other day, and they explained that the number of children attending any camp in the US has risen 27% from 11 million to 14 million in the past five years.  While there are many specialized camps, traditional camps are providing more programs according to the American Camp Association.  Their 2014 Sites, Facilities, Programs Report explains that “54% of resident camps now offer one or more science & technology program, and 95% of resident camps offer arts or hobby programs including drama, music, ceramics and photography – along with standard ‘arts and crafts’”.  Even high schoolers enjoy  camp.  One Gen Z teen I spoke to who is currently  between her freshman and sophomore years of high school was raving about her summer camp ritual saying that “this is my 4th year at this camp and I absolutely love it.  I meet people from all over and the camp has everything you could think of to choose from!”

Vivek Pandit, teen author of “We Are Generation Z” says that learning over the summer is a common desire among many of his peers.  He explained that “it’s interesting because instead of the beach being the main focus, I’ll focus more on my summer course and then hit the beach during my free time.  It’s somewhat like my vacations have flip-flopped in terms of what the main point is.”

Having a generation of kids that want to learn new skills during the summer, and an abundance of programs to choose from, is a blessing for the working parents of Gen Z.  According to Pew Research, in nearly half of two-parent households both parents are employed full time meaning that finding something engaging for Gen Z kids to do during the summer has become essential for many.  Fortunately the broad choice of camps and programs at varying cost levels provides an easy option.

2. Earning spending money is still important for many, but isn’t always easy or the first priority:  Teen employment has been trending down according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data presented by Challenge, Gray & Christmas.  They noted that “last summer marked the third consecutive year in which teen summer job gains declined from the previous year”.  However, they are also quick to note that for many teens this is a conscious choice as they instead focus on other activities or take on odd jobs such as babysitting for pocket money and a more flexible schedule.

Gen Z teens are more selective about the jobs they accept – they often seek money in conjunction with gaining relevant experience.  One 19 year old Gen Z that I spoke with who is an aspiring teacher explained that “[my friends and I] all stress over money. We know we don’t have a lot.  For me I like the money but it’s also about opportunities since I [choose to] work only for schools.”  Vivek Pandit explained this phenomenon to me. “Instead of using [the summer] as a way to solely chill and escape our daily routines, we are utilizing this time to gain experience and learn.  [However], having a job and earning our own money is also very important.  Gen Z is more financially cautious, especially after watching their parents go through the recession, so having personal spending money is something we value and take pride in.”  And the growing size of that spending power as Gen Z starts to earn their own money is attracting the attention of marketers.  Sparks & Honey estimated that Gen Z already has $44 billion per year in spending power from allowances alone.

  1. Having some fun during summer still matters: Summer vacation is a vacation from the routine of school, and that fact is not lost on Gen Z.  Even the most ambitious Gen Z teens I spoke to were enjoying the break.  As one 16-year old Gen Z-er put it “Time flies and I want to make the most out of every second of summer.  I don’t want to look back and think I should have gone to the beach more. I am making a conscious effort to have fun and enjoy every moment.”  Despite her days being filled at an educational camp that offers everything from dance classes to film critique and sushi making lessons, she adds “if I finish my camp and feel like going to the beach before dinner I will make sure to go.  I like being busy.”   The notion of fun still exists, but has evolved as the hard-working and active Generation Z takes the stage.

Previous generations in the US were more likely to spend their summer vacation combining, for example, a job at a local burger joint with long hours spent at the beach.  This new generation is more structured in terms of their summer goals and is balancing education and developing new skills and interests with earning money and scheduling time for fun in between.  Looking ahead, this has interesting implications.  Gen Z will ultimately arrive, after their focused summers, in college hopefully more prepared and with broader experience.  And they will arrive in the workforce with more experience and direction, and probably higher expectations.  Employers should get ready for a workforce even more demanding (but also more driven and prepared) and more interested in making an impact than Gen X and other generations to date.

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