The Education and Employment Disconnect

Why Gen Zs need more exposure to the real-world skills required in today’s workplaces.
Nov 17, 2023
Employers are looking at skills and an ability to learn.

Education, for generations, has been perceived as the steppingstone to a fulfilling career. Yet, for Gen Z, the traditional education system seems increasingly misaligned with the evolving demands of the contemporary job market. Born into an era of technological advancement, young Australians are grappling with a disconnect between the careers they envision and the new realities of the workforce. This landscape is marked by a significant discord between two fundamental life aspects: Education and Employment.

Gen Z is entering a job market that values adaptability, creativity, collaboration, and digital proficiency. However, research shows 42% of Australian students are still choosing from the same top 10 traditional careers their parents and grandparents pursued. Even more concerning is that over a third of Australian teenagers aspire to jobs that are at high risk of automation. This suggests that the skills nurtured in classrooms may not translate into employability, leading to a perplexing and often disheartening transition from education to employment.

In an age where technology and automation are reshaping the workforce, young people are succumbing to the pressure to follow in their predecessors' footsteps, without considering the rapidly changing landscape of the job market. Students need access to up-to-date information on their chosen career pathway and the skills that will be in demand. The consequence is a lack of diversity in career aspirations, which is detrimental to both individual growth and the nation's economic future.

The sense of disconnection extends beyond the immediate challenges of education and employment, it also breeds anxiety, doubt, and a crisis of identity. Cheryl Quang, CEO of Wandr and Online Courses Australia (OCA) says the disruption to education, job losses, financial uncertainty, and social isolation have all weighed heavily on Gen Z's shoulders. Amidst this environment of intense pressure, students are expected to make huge, potentially life-defining decisions about their career pathways.

It's not surprising then that so many struggle and come to regret their choice further down the track. Research shows that of the 70% of students headed to university, only 41% feel confident about their career choices and one in five drop out in their first year. 33% of students feel that their career options are limited and one in five either aren’t planning to go to university or haven’t decided what they want to do.

Cheryl Quang says that with the changing nature of work, the landscape of education needs to change with it. One promising approach is to provide students with access to short, sample learning modules that give them a taste of what a particular role or career might entail. These "try before you buy" opportunities allow students to explore various career paths, gaining insights into their preferences and aptitudes. This not only helps them make informed decisions but also minimises the risk of ending up in a career that they find unfulfilling.

Wandr offers micro-credential courses that enable students to slow down and experiment with different career paths. By offering a range of courses covering diverse topics, Wandr allows young people to gain experience and skills in multiple domains. These opportunities help students make more informed choices about their future careers and reduce the likelihood of pigeonholing themselves into careers that may become obsolete.

Greg Miller, long-time STEM advocate, Wandr Board Advisor, and co-Founder Faethm by Pearson says that as digital disruption and artificial intelligence redefine the future of work, employers are increasingly valuing skills over degrees. The modern workforce is looking for adaptable individuals who can quickly learn new skills and pivot as the job landscape evolves. This shift highlights the urgency for education to evolve, emphasising skills acquisition over traditional degree-based education.

Micro-credentials and short courses have emerged as a powerful tool to bridge the gap between traditional education and the changing demands of the job market. These bite-sized learning modules offer students the opportunity to acquire specific skills and competencies in a shorter time frame, without committing to long-term, traditional degrees. Micro-credentials are an effective way for young people to augment their skill sets and future-proof their career choices.

Incorporating micro-credentials and short courses into the education system has several significant advantages. Firstly, they provide students with an opportunity to explore various fields, reducing the pressure to make long-term career decisions prematurely. This flexibility allows them to discover their true passions and strengths, ultimately leading to more satisfying and productive career choices.

Micro-credentials also align with the fast-paced nature of the job market as they allow you to swiftly acquire new skills and adapt to changing job requirements. By embracing self-directed learning, students become active participants in their own growth. This level of engagement and autonomy prepares them for a lifetime of continuous learning and adaptation, an essential skill in the ever-changing job market.

The traditional education system is not obsolete, but it does need to evolve to align with the realities of the contemporary job market. The integration of micro-credentials and short courses can bridge the gap between what students aspire to be and what the job market demands. These innovative educational pathways provide flexibility, choice, and adaptability that are crucial for preparing the workforce of tomorrow.