This was first published on EY.com.

  • In a recent survey, EY Ripples and JA Worldwide asked 6,000 Gen Z youth about how they'd reframe business and education.
  • They found that Gen Z very entrepreneurially minded, coveting careers that allow them to generate original ideas and solve global challenges.
  • While generally confident in their own abilities, they believe school subject focus and teaching methods could better prepare them for life after school.
  • Gen Z have high expectations of business, including deeper involvement in education through provision of mentoring and work-based learning.

Over the course of four months during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Z youth from 17 countries responded to a survey that asked for their thoughts on how education might be improved, their future aims, and how hopeful they feel about 2030, among other topics. This survey was designed by the EY Ripples team and distributed by the non-profit JA Worldwide to nearly 6,000 students and alumni connected to the organization.

Through EY Ripples, hundreds of EY employees volunteer to teach JA’s foundational programs in entrepreneurial and financial literacy skills to students in over 25 countries annually. While these organizations have worked together to educate Gen Z youth for over 20 years, it was imperative that the collaboration be strengthened by establishing a greater understanding of what exactly the next generation wants and what they are looking to achieve in the future.

Survey results yielded an understanding of a generation that is largely optimistic about 2030 and is ready to get started with gaining work experience so that they can tackle global challenges.

For instance, 82% of the surveyed cohort stated that they feel hopeful about finding work and addressing global challenges in 2030, and 78% feel positively about the emerging trends shaping the future of work – globalization, automation, and shifting work norms. When considered alongside the finding that 89% of respondents feel confident in using technology, a more complete picture emerges: the majority of this Gen Z group feels ready to take on the working world of the future. They feel good about operating in an environment that will demand interaction with and dependence upon technology and automation, and they are determined to leverage these tools to solve the complex challenges that lie ahead.

However, while this Gen Z cohort looks toward the future through a largely optimistic and empowered lens, the survey findings revealed some critical ways in which Gen Z’s proactiveness and desire to create impactful change could be better served by the institutions around them.

When asked to rank how the education system could be improved, the majority of Gen Z respondents stated a preference for greater exposure to real-life work (59%) and professional mentorship (57%), making these the two most popular responses. In contrast, the more traditional teaching methods of lectures, student teaching, and field trips ranked the lowest of 10 options. Similarly, Gen Z rated more traditional school subjects as less important than future-focused, pro-social topics such as environmental literacy and global citizenship by a margin of 20 points. Gen Z respondents also conveyed a yearning for more school courses focused on career development and financial literacy.

Key findings for this Gen Z cohort:

1. Global problem-solving, diversity, and original thought are key motivators at school and at work.

2. There is a strong desire for a new educational model that includes a blend of virtual and in-person learning, true-to-life work experiences and mentorship, future-focused curriculum and greater levels of creativity and self-direction.

3. Their high levels of optimism and confidence about the future are tempered by a collective ambivalence about whether their educational experiences have prepared them well for life ahead.

4. The education community and large businesses are viewed as the primary institutions responsible for preparing Gen Z for the future of work.

Given these findings, both the education and business communities should consider how to best leverage the desires and ambitions of Gen Z to foster a continuous, comprehensive education-to-work journey that ultimately helps build a better working world. It won’t be long before this generation reframes what the working world of the future looks like – nearly half of the cohort surveyed expect that, in 10 years, they will be running their own businesses. In looking forward, Gen Z’s impending contributions to the working world should not be underestimated, and the ways in which they can best be supported right now should not be overlooked.