This weekend’s Job Market Column, “Make Way for Generation Z,” by Alexandra Levit intrigued me frankly because of the overall optimism of the piece. Given today’s heated educational climate, with all the focus on and anxiety over testing, for example, I was surprised by all the positivity. To be honest, I don’t hear too many of the Gen Zs in my own personal orbit expressing a great deal of optimism.
Levit noted that this group of kids, the Gen Zs (born between 1990 and early 2000s), are overall:
- Proficient with technology but prefer face-to-face interaction
- Schooled in emotional intelligence
The essence of the article appeared to be summed up in the following quote by a Gen Z conference attendee characterizing her fellow Gen Zs: “It’s an upbeat group that’s full of passion.”
I decided to investigate a bit and try to understand just how prepared these kids feel about the future. If we take into account Z’s view on their high school experiences, their attitudes about college and the future, and the perspective from the workplace, we appear to be looking at quite a complex character.
“Unprepared for College and Work”
Not surprisingly, there are some Zs who are expressing dissatisfaction with their current lot and appear to be less optimistic than those Levit met. Released in December 2014, the “Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work?” report was based on an Achieve survey of 1,347 graduates from the high school classes of 2011 through 2014. Many of the student respondents report being unprepared for college and the workplace, specifically citing:
- At least some gaps in preparation for college work (83%)
- Large gaps in preparation for college work (49%)
- A lack of clear expectations of the work required in college and the working world (two-thirds)
- Not enough encouragement to take the challenging courses that would help them later on (two-thirds)
Admittingly, these students are being asked to comment on their high school experience as pertains to college and the workplace, but the overall sense of the report leaves us assuming these kids are not feeling entirely prepared for their future. How does this mesh with what else we’re hearing about Gen Z?
“Entrepreneurial and Self-Directed”
Another poll making the rounds is the “Meet Generation Z Poll” conducted in October 2014 by Northeastern University for their fourth national innovation survey. This poll queried 1,015 16- to 19- year olds on their views on higher education, civic engagement, public policy technology, financial literacy and person aspirations.
According to the poll, these respondents expressed “a strong desire to work for themselves, learn about entrepreneurship and design their own programs od study in college.” They specifically cited:
- Strong expectations to work for themselves (42%)
- The need for colleges to teach entrepreneurship (63%)
- A desire for colleges to allow students to design their own majors (72%)
In terms of this group of respondents’ attitudes about college itself:
- 81% said college is very or extremely important to their future career
- 65% believe college is worthwhile and believe that the benefits outweigh the cost
These kids’ attitudes seem to mesh better with those Levit describes in her article.
Will the Real Gen Z Please Stand Up?
Clearly the two surveys differ in their goals and demographics. Yet, you have to wonder where one group is getting its overall optimism while the other is expressing mostly frustration. Can we assume that if students who answered the first survey were instead asked to answer the second that their responses would have been as positive? Or if we asked the kids in the “Meet Generation Z Poll” to evaluate how well high school prepared them for college, would they come up with the same responses as that cohort did? Obviously we are not looking at a level playing field. What can we do to better prepare all Gen Zs for a better future?
Leveling the Playing Field
The respondents to Achieve’s survey supplied a list of their own recommendations for change:
- Provide opportunities for real-world learning (90 percent);
- Communicate early in high school the courses needed for college careers (87 percent);
- Give opportunities to take challenging courses (86 percent);
- Provide more help for those who need extra tutoring (83 percent);
- Have an assessment late in high school so students can find out what they need for college (77 percent).
We know that these approaches are being carried out in certain schools but obviously not enough. So, not only in college but also in the workplace, we are seeing a range of preparedness amongst this group.
Observations from the Workplace
Another interesting perspective is provided by those in the workplace who are already working with members of the Gen Z. Bruce Tulgen, a workplace consultant whose observations are summarized in the article “Generation Z: Why HR Must Be Prepared for Its Arrival,” describes a generation that “grew up post 9/11 and came of age in a time of fear and awareness of vulnerability.” Citing “helicopter parenting” as one particular cause, Tulgen notes a lack of problem-solving skills, communication skills and critical-thinking skills. Again, citing their upbringing, Tulgen describes Gen Zs as a group whose “access to information, ideas, images and sounds is completely without precedent. At the same time, they are isolated and scheduled to a degree that children have never been.”
Tulgen is not alone in noting that companies must prepare appropriately to engage with Gen Z in the workplace.
Recommendations for Future Success
We’re all concerned about the workplace being refreshed in the next few years as the last of the boomers retire. As Tulgen says “The grown-ups are leaving, and there will be a new, young workforce to take their place.” Tulgen’s advice includes stricter designs for social media interactions, more detailed job descriptions, and “engaging workers with smaller bits of information,” for example.
Levit recommends that employers reach out “to develop relationships today with teenagers in grades seven through 12. Get into their schools, provide mentorship and education, and put yourself in a position to help shape their career decisions. They are eager to listen.”
I couldn’t agree more. For whoever the real Z is, all of our kids will benefit from more real-world interaction in school and exposure to the word at large before they get there. And a little project-based, hands-on learning to help develop those critical thinking skills wouldn’t be bad, either.
Are you the parent or employer of a Gen Z, or are you a member of this generation yourself? What are your thoughts on preparedness? Are you optimistic about what’s to come? Let us know in the comments below.