Three Social and Emotional Skills to Prepare Gen Z for Their Careers

Laura is an HR executive who just finished her 14th interview in a single week with a prospective job candidate. We spoke by phone at the end of her week, and she told me she was exhausted. When I said I understood her natural weariness, she said it wasn’t the volume of candidates that wore her out but rather their readiness for a job. Or should I say their lack of readiness.

You should know Laura is a fan of Generation Z. She always reminds of the immense potential recent graduates have, how much energy they bring to the workplace, and how much she loves coaching them as a Human Resource Officer. This round of recent grads, however, was not prepared for much except more schooling. Here are three of her stories.

  • One interviewee told her he wanted lots of free time every day. When she said full-time employees work 8 hours a day, he said he wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. 
  • Another job candidate took a phone call during the interview and abruptly ended the interview. Evidently, she got another interview and saw herself as a free agent. 
  • Still another potential employee could not look up from his phone. There was no eye contact during the interview, poor listening skills, and very poor communication.

Laura’s reaction to these stories was very revealing. She said, “I just wish the schools these young people attended operated more like a workspace in our business. Clearly, the classes these candidates attended did not prepare them for a job. What makes this even tougher is that the marketplace is changing rapidly.”

What’s Coming in the Future

We’ve all heard statistics about how today’s kids will likely graduate into a career or a job that doesn’t even exist today. Have you heard the latest number? According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary school today will be employed in jobs that do not yet exist. The world of work is changing. 

The fact is many jobs that exist today will become automated by artificial intelligence in the future. McKinsey Global predicts that almost half of all workplace activities could be automated in the future. Once again, the world of work is changing. 

The question that consumes my mind these days is: How can I prepare students for a career regardless of when they graduate? In other words, how can I build timeless skill sets that will be relevant in 2020, 2030, or even 2040? I believe this is possible. 

What skills do I suggest we equip students with as they graduate?

1. Help them focus on learning technical skills and soft skills simultaneously.

In the past, we referred to academics in school as the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Two more Rs have become just as important: resourcefulness and resilience.  These are the soft skills required to succeed in 2020. Resilience is in demand because jobs and even industries will be turning over rapidly in the future. Kids who are resilient and can adapt will be the ones to flourish. Resourcefulness is in demand because the way to succeed today is not to memorize (information is at our fingertips) but to research and find new solutions. While technology is not going away, neither is the need for soft skills like these. Or, others like active listening, empathy, reading social cues, and clear communication.

Cameron Turner is a student at the University of Michigan and served as an intern with us at Growing Leaders in 2019. Cam always tells me that his older and younger brothers are smarter than he is, but Cam will flourish in his career as much if not more than his brothers because his emotional intelligence is so high. He has pursued developing both hard and soft skills in his life. He is set up for success.

2. Help them build both timeless habits and timely problem-solving skills.

I believe the graduates who get ahead are those who’ve pursued both timeless skills and timely skills. By this, I mean they develop skill sets that meet the need of the hour such as coding, computer programming, or software development. At the same time, they don’t neglect the timeless skills like relationship management, self-regulation, and social awareness. These are evergreen social and emotional skills.

I have said for years the fastest way to gain influence on a team is two-fold:

  1. Solve problems.
  2. Serve people. 

When a student can solve current problems their organization faces, he or she will always be in demand. In addition, if they’re willing to serve those around them, without assuming the task is below them or beneath their pay grade, they will go far as well. The very acts of solving and serving position a team member to be valuable. 

Matt Ward is a young professional who’s served on our team at Growing Leaders for six years. He has served in at least four positions during his time, and in each of them, he became recognized as a most valuable player. Do you know how he did it? Every single problem our non-profit threw at him, he found a way to solve it. And it always served other team members. And that’s where the magic happens.

3. Help them to both blend in and stand out at the same time.

As graduates enter the workplace, they’ll soon realize it is important to both blend in and stand out. By blend in, I mean that there is a benefit to discovering how things get done around the organization and demonstrating they can play team ball. They don’t demand that everyone adjust to them but rather vice versa. At the same time, they must find ways to stand out, to set themselves apart from others through their talent, initiative, creativity, and ambition. Without calling attention to themselves, they will find themselves in the spotlight by achieving goals, creating products, or surpassing expectations while they’re still new and young. This will take walking the extra mile. 

Schools that prepare students for this kind of combination will be serving them well. Some elementary and high schools in Canada and around the world are piloting Genius Hour projects where students are encouraged to work on topics that interest them from one hour every week up to as much as 20% of their school day. This reminds me of the work environment at 3M or Google. It brings out the best in people because it focuses on their ideas, ambition, and ownership. 

Last year, I asked a group of three high school seniors to prepare and then offer a persuasive speech to their peers–as if their audience was school administrators. It could be on any worthwhile goal they hoped to influence their school to pursue. I was intrigued to find they chose to speak on the topic: 

I Wish My School Taught a Class in Life Skills.”

Maybe it’s time we did just that. If you are looking for creative ways to teach these kinds of soft skills or social and emotional learning competencies, please check out our unique courses that do just that: “Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning.”

Three Social and Emotional Skills to Prepare Gen Z for Their Careers