Navigating Gen Z’s educational void: brands’ power to empower beyond the classroom

Sep 5, 2023 |5 min read
US education - student carrying books

Exploring the educational void

According to our research[i], only 2 in 5 Gen Z feel their education has prepared them well or very well for the workforce. And we’re not the only ones to notice:  A recent Gallup and Walton Family Foundation-State of American Youth Survey also concluded that K-12 schools struggle to prepare and excite Gen Z about learning.

But what's the scoop on what Gen Zs really need from schools?


From theory to reality

Using Inca’s conversational AI survey platform that was instrumental in helping us engage and connect authentically with Gen Zs, we uncovered deep emotional truths about their frustrations, aspirations, and unmet desires within the current education system.

As we peel back the layers of their experiences, it becomes clear that Gen Z is looking for education that not only equips them with academic knowledge but also empowers them with the practical tools needed to thrive independently.

“They should revise the curriculums and introduce subjects that are helpful to the students to learn basic life skills such as cooking and how to properly use your brain to critically think. Many students are not being raised properly at home and I believe school should be a place that helps to raise children to be better citizens and not better workers.”

“Schools teach us basic learning skills for mathematics, science, history, etc. If only they would help us learn how to maintain a home, how to pay our bills, or get us ready for the real world when we grow up and get out on our own we wouldn’t feel so helpless and confused. If only we were guided in the right ways children wouldn’t be terrified of going out on their own when they graduate high school or grow up.”


Brands' opportunity to bridge the gap between school and 'real life' 

In every corner of life, Gen Z nurtures a fervent desire for a curriculum that emphasizes practical, hands-on learning.  As traditional education falls short in meeting these needs, brands have a golden opportunity to step in, bridging the learning gap with engaging experiences and skill programs that will not only increase their relevance in Gen Z's life, but also ease the weight on their shoulders.

Empowering Financial Fluency:  One of the most significant educational gaps today revolves around finance. This critical gap in knowledge leaves many Gen Zs ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of the financial world as they transition into adulthood. The consensus is clear among Gen Zs that gaining a foundational understanding of finances is key to adult success.

“Although it is important to prepare kids for college, I feel that regardless if you plan on going to college or not, schools should mostly focus on teaching kids the basic fundamentals of surviving after high school and how to navigate all of the unfamiliar responsibilities that are never talked about in schools. Such as, how to build credit, how to make smart investments, where and how to file taxes, how to manage money responsibly, etc. I feel that schools should at least do a crash course on these things.”

“I gave a one star rating to represent how education has prepared me for today's workplace, because personally my school experiences haven't been relevant to anything that I have needed to know while in the workplace. Yes, school educated me on history and how to read and write, but that is basic knowledge that every human must know in today's society. School did not prepare me for paying taxes, how to find a sustainable job, how to pay bills and regulate money.”

Enhancing Job Preparedness:  Another prominent gap in education concerning Gen Z pertains to job preparedness. Practical job training, along with essential skills like resume writing, interview techniques, job search strategies, and an understanding of corporate dynamics, remains insufficient within the current educational framework. This gap becomes even more apparent as Gen Z transitions from their academic pursuits to the demands of the professional world.

“While they do teach us about resumes and helping us research what careers we want I believe it isn’t enough. They should teach us what’s the best way to get a job we want [such as] a well written resume, appropriate attire for interviews and practicing for interview questions.”

“Not enough skill classes were taught and helpful information and materials were given to better prepare us for the future workforce [such as] resume classes with how-tos and tips, communication classes to use in interviews and inside the workplace.”

Developing Soft Skills: Gen Z's need for well-rounded education extends to the realm of communication skills, which serve as the bedrock for success in virtually every aspect of life. Within the current educational landscape, a crucial gap emerges when it comes to developing 'soft skills'—the ability to express ideas clearly, engage with others, and navigate social dynamics. Gen Z voices the sentiment that schools often overlook the broader aspects of functioning within the outside world, including vital social skills and their role as responsible members of society.

“My education set me up with key hard skills however, no soft skills. I think someone needs to be a great communicator and leader.”

“In school you're taught to be quiet and listen. The real world frequently doesn't work like that, and not having those social skills right away makes it harder to adapt. [Helpful skills to have] Individual speaking, as well as how to confidently present ideas.”

Nurturing Mental Well-Being: In the face of the widespread mental health crisis affecting Gen Z, it's clear that this generation is grappling with profound challenges. A combination of factors, including the proliferation of social media, academic pressures, economic uncertainty, and the recent global pandemic, has created a perfect storm that exacerbates mental health issues.

Gen Zs advocate for increased focus on mental health education in schools to address issues like depression and anxiety among younger students. Building confidence and reducing anxiety is a key priority for them.

“They did not prepare me for the emotional challenge and organizational challenge among others.”

“Also schools should definitely talk more about mental health and how to seek help for it especially with the amount of younger kids that are starting to develop things like depression, anxiety, etc..”


To conclude...

Helping Gen Zs close this educational gap will ensure that brands become ingrained in their lives early on, cultivate trust and stay top of mind.


[i] We spoke to N=795 Gen Zs in the US about their educational journey to understand their experiences and perspectives as they navigate the critical transition from school to what they often refer to as “real life”.