National Careers Week 2021 (NCW2021) has prompted us to really think about one of the most hotly debated topics of the year; how have school pupils (in other words part of the group classified as Generation Z) been affected by the pandemic and what does this mean for their career prospects?
Gen Z has undoubtedly faced enormous difficulties over the past twelve months. With national lockdowns forcing school closures across the country, the education and progress of many Gen Zers has undoubtedly suffered. Additionally, the pandemic saw GCSEs and A-Levels in 2020 come to a grinding halt. Changes have also had to be made for this year’s examination period.
The pandemic has unquestionably highlighted the flaws of the British education system and drastically reduced career opportunities for the Gen Zers who have already left school. We found ourselves asking the following questions:
- How has the pandemic affected career prospects for those belonging to Generation Z?
- What part does vocational training have to play in the future of Gen Z?
- Is the British education system due a refresh?
Who are Generation Z?
Generation Z refers to anyone born between the years 1996 and 2010. Often called the iGeneration, Gen Zers have a reputation for being “technology obsessed”. The average Gen Zer received their first mobile at the age of 10.3. Smartphones and social media are commonplace for this generation bringing with it many advantages but also a myriad of problems.
Generation Z certainly receive a lot of negative press but there are some positive attributes that define these youngsters. Gen Z is considered the most racially and ethnically diverse generation. Additionally, they are known for standing up for their rights and beliefs. The death of George Floyd in 2020 caused millions of Gen Zers to campaign on social media for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Similarly, Gretta Thunberg is known on the world stage for challenging internationally renowned leaders on issues regarding climate change.
This generation certainly has a lot to offer but to what extent has their progress has been stunted by the pandemic?
The education pathway of Gen Z
Generation Z have often been coined “stressed, depressed and exam obsessed”. In the past decade Gen Zers have had to contend with several changes to the academic system. At GCSE level, grades changed from the traditional letter grades to a numerical system. The purpose of this change was to separate out those at the very top. A level 9 is equivalent to an A** in the old system and might place more pressure on pupils to achieve at the highest level.
Similarly, the structure of A-Levels has changed. AS Levels were scrapped entirely, and pupils moved to a system where all exams were taken at the end of year 13. The knowledge gained by students in sixth form is now tested purely by examination at the end of a two-year period. To add to this pressure, student’s performance in their A-Level exams determines whether they can attend their first-choice university.
It has often been said that young people place too much pressure on themselves. Gen Zer’s are often thought to be “weaker” than previous generations and many suggest they need to become more resilient. Perhaps it is not the generation that needs to change but the whole system that requires adapting?
GCSEs and A-Levels have been around since 1951. Since this time, we have seen the mobile phone invented, the internet become a normality and, indeed, a global crisis in the form of Covid-19. We have witnessed more change in this century than any other, yet our education system remains much the same. Surely it is time for a refresh?
Growth of apprenticeships
The modern apprenticeship was introduced in 1995 but momentum did not truly grow until the late 2000s. Generation Z have undertaken more apprenticeships than any other.
Yasar Rahman, Finance Apprentice at Bud said:
“It’s a change from the classroom. You get real, ‘hands on’ practical experience in a real job role. This enables me to absorb far greater depth of knowledge and skills than I ever would in a classroom. You have people there to help whenever you need it, not only from your apprenticeship provider but also your team. You also gain the more subtle skills such as teamwork, effective communication and problem solving that will help you throughout your career.”
In 2013, the government raised the compulsory age for education from 16 to 18. For those who did not want to take the traditional academic subjects, apprenticeships were seen as an excellent alternative. There are, however, apprenticeships for a wide range of subjects namely marketing, accounting, engineering and health and social care. Whilst the fact remains that aspiring lawyers and doctors may not be able to pursue the apprenticeship route, perhaps the entry route to these professions should be reviewed?
It has been proven that “learning by doing” is more engaging than classroom learning and pupils involved in this form of education retain information better. At present, many young people are expected to take GCSEs, A-Levels and then complete a degree. From here, they enter the workforce and are immediately expected to deliver results whilst having to negotiate putting theory into practice for the very first time. Apprenticeships give learners a head start and allow them to hit the ground running. This is not only of benefit to young people but also to employers who have more confident and knowledgeable employees.
T-Levels officially began in September 2020. The new qualifications are meant to act as an alternative to A-Levels. T-Levels offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours.
The government has already invested £500 million to help providers meet the costs of T-Levels. It is hoped that T-Levels will enable teenagers to become “work-ready” in certain key industries.
Unlike A-Level pupils, T-Level students are assessed throughout the year and receive grades for each core component as well as an overall grade. This not only removes the pressure of a final exam but also allows students to gain the practical skills employers desire. In a recent study 51% of Gen Zers suggested they learnt best by “doing”. Interestingly, only 12% said they learnt best through “listening”. This certainly suggests that the traditional education system may be redundant for some and vocational qualifications such as T-Levels could be the way forward for many Gen Zers.
Is vocational training the way forward?
By investing in T-Levels and other vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), the government has undoubtedly recognised the importance of such training to the economy post-pandemic. It could be, however, that vocational training can do far more than just bridge the feared Generation Z skills gap, potentially brought about by Covid-19.
The vocational training industry is beginning to invest in artificial intelligence, augmented reality and machine learning. Our age is a digital one and it is Gen Zers who are most comfortable in this environment. Could it be that the change of government focus to a more “skills-based” learning style in combination with the latest technologies has the power to bring Gen Z up to speed and then take them, and indeed society, forward in a fast-paced, ever changing world?