My kids are Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2010. And I wonder: what can we see in those kids now that can tell us what they’ll be like later, at work?
As a history student in college (history of political thought, for all you fans of the Republic) and still an obsessive researcher of generational demographic trends (everyone should start with Strauss & Howe) I understand that to study history (contemporary or ancient), you must study generational shifts in thinking, because the way the generation thinks helps us to understand and explain historical action. And maybe predict future action.
So I think a lot about what Generation Z will be like. I have written before about what Generation Z will be like at work , but I've been thinking, recently, that the way Gen Z is educated will change the workplace when they enter it.
1. A huge wave of homeschooling will create a more self-directed workforce.
Homeschooling is going mainstream. We have known for a while that public education in the United States is largely terrible. Yes, there are pockets that are exceptional, but for the most part, we have an education crisis on our hands. But Baby Boomers were too scared to solve the crisis with homeschooling. If you homeschool your kids, you take them out of the typical ways to measure how well kids are doing in the competition. Baby Boomers couldn't handle that, and they also wanted to work full-time, so instead of homeschooling, Baby Boomers got kids tons of tutoring and extra help after school.
Gen X is more comfortable working outside the system than Baby Boomers. Gen X women are fine quitting their jobs to take care of their kids—they have no feminist ax to grind in the workplace. And Gen X parents don't feel a need to have their kid compete because Gen X is so noncompetitive. So homeschooling among Gen X parents is becoming mainstream. It's no longer just for religious radicals and problem children. Homeschooling is for parents who know public schools are broken and don't have $20,000 a year for private school.
This means we will have a generation of kids who grew up with largely a self-learning, self-directed model. They are more accustomed to figuring out what they like to do, and doing it on their own. The crisis to figure out what to do with one's life will not last so long because Gen X will raise more independent and self-directed kids.
2. Homeschooling as kids will become unschooling as adults.
We have established that school does not prepare people for work. In fact, Gen Y has been very vocal about this problem because a) they did everything they were told to do and it didn't help them get a job and b) we have a national crisis because gen y has huge debt from college and little ability to pay it back.
With alternative schooling and an emphasis on independent investigation, Generation Z will be the first group of knowledge workers who were trained to do their job before they started working. For example, Generation Z will be great at synthesizing information because they will have been doing that—rather than memorizing—the whole time they were in school.
The workplace ramification of this shift in learning is that Generation Z will have no problem directing their careers. They will know how to figure out what skill to learn next, and they will have more self-discipline to do it on their own.
When Gen Z enters the workforce, the older people, Gen X and Gen Y, will work to live, not live to work. This will be something Gen X and Gen Y fought hard for. To Gen Z it will be easy to do and self-learning will take center stage in their work day. So, as qualifications for the workplace will rapidly change and older people who don’t keep up will be outdated, it will be Generation Z that is best at keeping up. Not because they are young, but because they understand that unschooling is not a movement for kids, but a way to live a life, and it doesn't stop when you start getting a paycheck.
3. The college degree will return to its bourgeois roots; entrepreneurship will rule.
The homeschooling movement will prepare Generation Y to skip college, and Gen X is out-of-the-box enough in their parenting to support that.
One of the books that really changed the way I think is Zac Bissonnette’s book, Debt-Free U. He explains why no one should go into debt for college. It's just not worth it. He says, even if your parents have the money to pay for college, use it for something better—like buying yourself a franchise and learning something that'll really help you establish yourself in the adult world.
Baby Boomers are too competitive to risk pulling the college rug out from under their kids. And Gen Y are rule followers—if adults tell them to go to college, they will go. Gen X is very practical and is also the first generation in American history to have less money than their parents. So it makes sense that Gen X would be the generation to tell their kids to forget about college.
Ninety percent of Gen Y say they want to be entrepreneurs, but only a very small percent of them will ever launch a full-fledged business, because Generation Y are not really risk takers. However I am guessing (based on links like this one) that most members of Gen X have, at some point, worked for themselves. The entrepreneurship bug will be in full force when Gen Z comes along. They will feel they have no choice but to do that or weather an unstable workplace with huge college debt. People will trade in a college degree for on-the-job learning. The result will be a smarter workforce and the end of universities as a patronage system for philosophers.
Photo by Melissa Sconyers.