Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.


Gen Z Isn't Planning On Going to College... Can You Support It?

Only 15% of Generation Z have stated that they have definite plans to pursue their four-year degree. The plan of the other 85% is to enter the workforce at age 18 and look to have their career, and their employers, dictate the necessary education they should pursue. This finding comes from a global study conducted by Universum, whom surveyed approximately 50,000 members of Generation Z in an effort to identify what the young generation values. Our society is looking at a big shift in thinking here, but it’s a shift that can be embraced. As long as this shift is done right, we’re looking at a resulting increase in trade school enrollment, individual financial standing and general workforce preparedness (i.e., a decline in the skills gap). 


Who is Generation Z? 

I know what you must be thinking right now – “We’ve barely begun to understand the Millennials…now we have a whole new generation to worry about?!” 

I get your hesitation. Please know, however, that this article will prove to be much more about looking at our future actions as employers rather than about defining a generation. 

Generation Z consists of any individual born 1995 or later. In non-mathematical terms, that means that the oldest are currently out at the bar buying their first beer (well, maybe not RIGHT now). They are that close to beginning their careers. The majority, however, are currently middle- and high-school aged and are the ones that we can focus on under this thesis. At first glance, they might seem similar to Generation Y, however this generation is growing up with a much greater sense that nothing can be taken for granted. In essence, they recognize that they need to make their own future. One way that Gen Z is looking to accomplish this is by learning from some of the professional and financial pitfalls of prior generations. 

The biggest perceived pitfall that’s been identified so far? “Unnecessary College.” Generation Z is seeing two (negative) things result from Generations X and Y: crippling debt and a lack of preparedness to enter the work force – both of which have logical ties to attending the wrong form of college. What’s meant here? The idea is that too many citizens are being forced into the wrong education: Bachelor's degree attainment when what they really need is trade school certification and/or professional on-the-job education. The reality is that certain individuals are putting up to hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and it’s not giving them proportionate professional or financial advantage. For example, did you know that Gen Y professionals who went to college are not able to afford a home as quickly as their non-bachelor-degree-holding counterparts? (Yahoo article). For more support on this thinking, you can also read my prior article here


How This is Different than Gen Y…and Where that Thinking Came From

If you’re Generation Y, then societal pressure essentially dictated that you had to get your Bachelor’s degree. In fact, the following line was drawn: 

No Bachelor’s degree? Unemployable. 

And Gen Y listened. Gen Y is on pace to be the highest educated generation EVER…. all while being the most criticized generation for not having the skills required by their employers. Therefore, the question has to be asked (and has been by several, including myself, already): 

Is it the individual or the education that’s truly lacking? 

(This is the part which will make this article more editorialized than I would typically like to be, but I want you to follow my logic.) 

Long story short, this line of thinking has led us to the over-attendance of Bachelor’s degrees. Getting your Bachelor’s degree is now no different than what having your high school diploma was 30 years ago. Is this progress? It should be, but it has also come with a form of decline that no one saw coming. 

Now, you can get a degree from anywhere, and colleges know that you need that degree in order to work…so up goes the price of tuition (and the student debt) since demand has become essentially inelastic. Consider this: tuition has increased 3.4% per year above inflation between 2005 and 2015, whereas average income has seen an overall decrease between those same years. In broader terms, we’ve seen an overall 26% increase in the cost of tuition vs. a 4% decline in income over these ten years. (Visit College Board and The Department of Numbers for a further look at some of these statistics). 


Why This Is Good for Our Workforce 

Looking at everything presented above, one thing becomes clear: we need to stop overvaluing Bachelor’s degrees because of what’s happened. Let’s correct. Let’s take matters into our own hands, employers. You have an entire generation of students who is completely willing to be sculpted by you and who is willing to learn whatever it is you tell them to learn. Take that opportunity. If you believe in the skills gap…this is how you fix it. 

According to a recent Fast Company article, only 23% of surveyed employers agreed with their incoming college graduates that these young professionals learned the necessary skills needed to excel in their job during their time at college. 

I repeat: 23%. This means that, on some level, 3 out of 4 of us already know that college is not always teaching our youth what they need to know in order to succeed. Couple this with our country’s consistently dropping education rankings (28th overall globally, 2nd to last in high-income nations – CNBC article) and you have a recipe for disaster: we’re forcing our youth to attend colleges that are poorly rated, force way too much debt and financial pressure, and don’t always prepare you adequately for the workforce. 

Employers, I implore you, start your search for Gen Z employees on the early side. Don't require them to immediately attend a 4-year school. Your training costs will not increase over that which you currently have, and will be much lighter on the back end. Chances are, you’re already putting your employees through this exact corporate education course load that we’re referencing here. Plus, now you know that your employees will have the skills that you want…because you instilled them onto a blank slate. 


Matthew Bare - Friday, April 15, 2016