A new academic year is upon us in our local school systems, and with it, it’s not uncommon for students routinely to ask parents and teachers, “Just why do I have to take this class?” or “How is this subject going to matter in my life?”
The core question: “Does learning this stuff really matter?”
Generation Z (comprised of people typically born between 2000-2015) possess many distinct generational characteristics when it comes to education, as well as implications for their future workforce expectations, including:
• An intense desire for fast and continuous feedback and big frustrations when they don’t get it (largely due to the instant-gratification element they’ve grown up with via hand-held technology)
• Very short attention spans (purported in behavioral research to be around eight seconds) and resulting lack of patience to deal with more analytical ideas involving depth or complexity (again – thanks largely to the speed of today’s social media technology)
• A common lack of interpersonal skills and civic participation or connectedness with the outside community beyond their smart-device screens
In light of these propensities, parents of Gen Z students face an important opportunity to coach and counsel their children – giving students feedback about their skills and talents that they likely crave while helping them connect the dots between classroom content and rewarding job opportunities in life.
Parents don’t need to be career experts or certified counselors themselves to be their child’s best source of guidance and encouragement.
- Foster career “idea” conversations on a routine basis, starting at early ages. Beyond asking the simple question, – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” – include observations that help identify the pathway to what a certain career might be and how particular classes that students are required to take (or are able to choose) are relevant and even essential.
- Don’t tell students what to think career-wise; tell them what to think ABOUT. Young people shouldn’t be expected to excel in career fields that they feel they’ve been forced into – and it doesn’t usually spell happiness, either. Avoid a square-peg/round-hole situation by letting students ultimately choose a path that interests them – but help them do so purposefully.
- Point students to online career tools and resources that they can self-discover. Most professions have national industry associations and websites that can be located via online keyword search, providing a host of informational resources on that career sector – what kind of training is required, where credentialed programs of study are located, what the long-term job market looks like, typical salary ranges, etc.
- Push students out of their comfort zones. This point is especially important if students’ “comfort zone” is in their room with the door closed and eyes glued to a device screen for hours on end. Out-of-home activities – getting out into the world with travel opportunities, interviewing for and working entry-level summer jobs, volunteering in community or faith organizations – broaden students’ horizons while boosting their self-confidence immeasurably.
- Guide students toward cultivating their soft skills. Given how smart-device addicted Gen Z evolved practically from birth, many can fall short on socialization and personal courtesy skills. Showing up to a job interview (and the job itself) on time, making eye contact, shaking hands firmly, wearing appropriate attire, and engaging effectively in introductory conversations are not necessarily second nature to young people. In this area, practice makes perfect – which leads to the next tip…
- Emphasize students putting their own work into networking. By age 18, students should set up brief informational interviews (15-20 minutes) with working people they know who are already successful in careers that they want to pursue. The insight gained could be life-changing. While parents can coach from the sidelines at home, they should never set up these interviews for their child, much less attend them (unless their child is at a particularly young age). Students should call and set up their own appointments, formulate their list of career questions in advance, arrive on time for the meeting, take notes, and send a thank-you note to the professional after the interview.
- Instill acceptance – even enthusiasm – for the idea of lifelong learning. A diploma or certificate isn’t an “end game.” It’s merely a ticket for entry into a career field that likely will require a lifetime of continued training in order to remain skilled and relevant as the workforce changes with the times and with technology. Lifelong learning brings joy and fulfillment to life’s journey. It’s a matter of attitude.
Using these tips, parents can help their children learn how to think for themselves about education through the lens of what students uniquely want to achieve in their lives.
In the process, Gen Z students can begin discerning their own “roadmap” decisions for their educational path, helping them make strategic, purposeful decisions about their educational and training investments, after high school.