How can Gen Z secure career success? Focus of soft skills

Soft Skills
Gen Z is incredibly career-focused, but unlike their milennial predecessors, they tend to favour practicality and financial stability over personal fulfilment. Source: Shutterstock

Rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and robotics have driven a flurry of research studies and reports on future-proofing jobs.

With USA Today writing that automation could kill 73 million US jobs by 2030; Bruegel announcing that 54 percent of European jobs are at risk of computerisation; and Forbes noting that Mexico, Vietnam and Indonesia are most at risk of automation, the threat emerging technologies pose to global career stability is undeniable.

Ambitious Gen Z is preparing for this shift. An age group that’s perhaps more employment-focused than Milennials or other predecessors, Gen Z students are intent on securing lasting success post-graduation. But how can this be done in a market that changes so fast?

“Gen Z is a generation of driven, passionate students, but unlike milennials, they tend to favour practicality and financial stability over personal fulfilment,” Lisa Malat, COO of Barnes & Noble College, told Study International.

Gen Z are far more career-focused than their forebears. Source: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

“Helping these students understand the importance of soft skills in achieving a successful career will jumpstart their willingness to master them.”

Striving to unearth the motivations behind this complex generation, Barnes & Noble College Insights spent dozens of hours talking to students across the US, conducting an online quantitative survey of 1,500 Gen Z students. Focusing on the values, aspirations, struggles and views of a demographic aged 22-years and younger, the survey was able to identify the trends and beliefs that make Gen Z unique.

Barnes & Noble’s major findings uncovered that:

– Gen Z spend hours on social media every day, with 44 percent claiming that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have deepened their relationships. But these students tend to favour sites like SnapChat which promise a certain level of anonymity – a value that’s important to Gen Z, who view privacy and security as paramount.

– This is a generation that embraces and admires individualism and diversity, with 86 percent of respondents believing people should have complete freedom to be whoever and whatever they want.

– This is a generation of inherent change-makers, with 68 percent stating they believe in the power of the individual to affect change.

But perhaps the most important finding was the worth these students place on education.

“Our research has shown that Gen Z students are incredibly career-focused – in fact, career preparation is one of the top factors students consider when choosing a college,” Malat explains.

“A remarkably practical generation, Gen Z students recognise the value of education, but they need assurance that the money they invest will lead to a good career and a better life. As the rise of automation continues to change the career landscape for Gen Z, this assurance can seem more difficult for schools to provide, however, one way to future-proof students as they take on the workplace remains readily apparent: helping them develop soft skills.”

Reed labels soft skills as the general attributes that aren’t specific to any one job or industry. These traits are generally self-developed, meaning no specialist training is required to achieve them. Their versatility means they are transferrable to many different roles, and that’s what makes them so desirable for graduate recruiters from pretty much any industry all over the world.

To put this into perspective, the 2019 Global Talent Trends report from LinkedIn found that 91 percent of employers agree that soft skills development is very important to the future of recruiting and HR; while 80 percent claim that soft skills are increasingly important to company success; and 92 percent say soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills.

According to the same LinkedIn report, the soft skills companies need but have difficulty finding include:

1. Creativity
2. Persuasion
3. Collaboration
4. Adaptability
5. Time Management

Despite the worries surrounding automation, a McKinsey study predicts that demand for creativity in the global employment will significantly rise by 2030. And so, those who have taken the time to develop soft skills will undoubtedly have the edge in the future workplace.

The future workplace will deeply value creativity. Source: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

“From communication to critical thinking, soft skills are more important than ever in the eyes of employers – and are often the skills students lack most. Yet campuses can, and do, offer a host of solutions to develop the soft skills gap, and have the opportunity to provide a holistic approach to career preparation that ensures students are entering the job market with all of the traits companies seek in job candidates,” adds Malat.

Most universities have dedicated Career Services on campus, and these can and should be used to refine soft skills. Mock interviews, résumé reviews and career coaching are ideal ways to prepare for working life. Job fairs and on-campus interviews are also a great chance for students to practice and showcase both hard and soft skills in a more relaxed, low pressure setting.

“While many students have a clear vision for the future they want, they often don’t utilise, or are unaware of all the resources to help them get there,” says Malat. “It’s critical that schools communicate to this digitally-native generation where they are (online!) to ensure students understand the tools at their disposal.”

Malat adds that once students are armed with updated résumés and interview techniques, gaining experience through internships or other work placements is imperative. There’s no better place to master things like problem-solving or time management than on-the-job, where these skills are integral to the success of entire organisations. Colleges and universities should look to partner with companies that boast strong internship programmes, creating convenient pathways for students seeking real-world opportunities for the first time.

“From career centre guidance to real-world experience, colleges and universities can help students foster the soft skills today’s employers are demanding, ensuring students are confident in their ability to succeed in the classroom and beyond,” Malat concludes.

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