Gen Z reveals that colleges are not preparing them for the workforce.

“When will I ever need it?” can be a common refrain among students struggling with long division, biochemistry, or book reports. By the time they get to college, it turns out they’re less likely to retain information if they don’t think it’s relevant to their future careers.

According to the most recent State of the College survey by academic publisher Wiley, 55% of college students and 38% of high school students, with more than 5,000 students and more than 2400 teachers reported difficulty staying engaged in classes that they felt did not teach practical skills.Many also said they had difficulty retaining the material.
But students said their professors could more easily generate interest in class materials if they could relate them more closely to their future careers. In particular, lessons with “real-world applications” would improve engagement the most, a quarter of respondents said.

This is true regardless of your major, Smita Bakshi, vice president of academic studies at Wiley, told Inside Higher Ed. This could look like incorporating today’s leading coding languages or software into STEM classes, discussing contemporary issues like student loan forgiveness, or using ChatGPT in a philosophy lecture.

Never be too young to take this lesson to heart. Donnie Piercey, a fifth-grade teacher in Lexington, Ky., apparently followed Baksh’s advice. In one exercise, he tasked his young students with trying to outsmart a ChatGPT “bot.”

“This is the future,” Piercey told the Associated Press. “As educators, we still haven’t figured out the best way to use artificial intelligence.” But it will come, whether we like it or not.

As students get older, it’s surprisingly hard to focus in the classroom when you can’t be sure how the lesson will help you get a job, Bakshi told Inside Higher Ed. This does not mean that students have so many thoughts that they “don’t bring their whole selves to the classroom.”
Instead, they are plagued by insecurity—and not helped by a dismal economy awaiting graduation. Also, many HR professionals don’t say they see great talent in recruiting.

According to a separate Wiley report, Closing the Skills Gap, 68% of C-suite executives say their organizations see a gap between what candidates can do and what the role requires. Nearly seven in 10 managers said they regularly employ a workforce that lacks the skills needed. Everyone loses here, especially students who graduate without the hard and soft skills that leaders are looking for.
This is something professors don’t seem to be aware of: Nearly two-thirds (64%) of faculty members said they believe their institution prepares students well for the workforce, but only46% of students agreed.

Students feel particularly behind in technology. In an international survey of 15,000 Gen Zers conducted last year by Dell Technologies, more than a third (37%) said their education did not prepare them for the digital skills they needed to advance their careers. In addition, the majority (56%) said they had little or no basic training in digital skills.

“There are wide gaps between poor and wealthy students in terms of access to and use of technology education resources, a gap exacerbated by the pandemic,” wrote Rose Stuckey, director of social responsibility at Verizon, in Kirk Fortune. “And we know that this gap is more than an academic or social justice issue.”

If the lack of skills is not addressed, both workers and companies can struggle for years. The best way to improve this is in the classroom.

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