How Gen Z could become an incredible force for change

Their generation has been hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of education and career prospects. Yet their potential is huge and we must do all we can to harness it.
January 3, 2022 by
How Gen Z could become an incredible force for change
Almendra Staffa-Healey

Born between 1997 and 2012, Generation Z appear to be the most diverse, open-minded and compassionate generation to date. In the US they are set to be the last generation of a mainly Caucasian ethnicity – just 55% of them are white. They are digital natives – having grown up surrounded by the Internet and learning technological devices effortlessly. And this could be one of the main reasons for their openness to diversity – since from an early age they have witnessed events in other countries in an immediate and impactful way through digital screens. This also explains why 60% of Gen Z want to have an impact on the world with their jobs (compared to 39% of millennials). [Intern Sushi / CAA]. And also why, in the US at least, the majority see growing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing.

“To move forward, we all should have well-educated minds so that we will be able to better understand our world, our problems and each other.”

Generation Z Student

However a global 2019 study by the OECD showed that “socio-economically disadvantaged students with an immigrant background and boys are more likely to repeat grades than advantaged students.” And this is something that has to be addressed worldwide as migration rates increase and education systems adapt to new technologies and the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The OECD report itself points out the need to build more pathways between upper secondary and tertiary programs and to create more flexible ways of learning – perhaps shorter cycle tertiary programs or longer first degrees at master’s level. Setting up programs like the migrant integration Horizon Académique one in Switzerland would also be another great solution. “Flexible entrance criteria can support lifelong learning and second-chance programs can offer new opportunities to older students who might have dropped out of the education system or for those who wish to develop new skills.”  This is particularly important for a sizeable proportion of migrants, who often have to balance family responsibilities.

For example, of the 258 million international migrants in the world today, nearly half are women. Recent data shows that more women are migrating on their own, often in search of a better education or job. And according to the International Organisation for Migration: “Migrant women remit homeward a greater portion of their earnings than do their male counterparts, regardless of nationality or in which countries they reside”. However there are still clear gender divisions when it comes to subjects chosen by women. Only 10% of female graduates pursued a career in engineering, manufacturing and construction in 2019. Whereas, in that same year, 83% of female graduates studied health and welfare – meaning that during the pandemic the majority of the health-care workforce on the frontline have been female – putting a huge burden on them. Encouraging more men to enter these fields would certainly help this gender gap 2

What needs to be recognised is that developing countries have the right to develop and progress just as much as Western societies already have done. President Barack Obama noted this in his recent video about his work to get nations to agree to the Paris Accord, pointing out that it wasn’t fair that countries such as India should have to sacrifice their development for the sake of a greener planet. And one of the main perquisites of the Paris Agreement was that richer countries would help poorer ones develop greener technology and they agreed to set aside $100 billion per year by 2020. However poorer countries are still waiting to receive that money. Thankfully some countries promised their own measures at COP26, with Australia, for example, increasing its financial commitments for the Asia-Pacific region to a total of $2 billion over the next five years and Japan promised an extra $2 billion a year in climate finance.

This is an area that has particular interest for me and one that I hope to become more involved with through my work with the inspiring Basma Dali. Born in Damascus, Syria, Basma has worked for several NGOs in Syria and the United Arab Emirates, often with a focus on young people and women. As a Millennial, she is in the generation above Gen Z, and has a strong affinity with the young. After moving to Madrid, Spain, she decided to set up Inspiring Women as a way to give agency to young women like her, who have overcome language and cultural barriers to study and work in new countries. Her project hopes to shine a light on these women while also offering support to new arrivals. Basma’s platform also highlights problems that refugees and migrants have often faced in their new countries, with the aim of trying to solve such barriers. 

“Migrants are builders of resilience, agents of local development and city-makers.”

 @unmigration General Director William Lacy Swing 2008-2018.

Support is obviously crucial for all migrants, regardless of gender. The benefits are myriad – not just for the migrant – but also for the country they reside in too. Fears of a ‘brain drain’ from their homelands doesn’t necessarily have to be a factor as many mobile students “can contribute to knowledge absorption, technology upgrading and capacity building in their home country, provided they return home after their studies or maintain strong links with nationals at home.” 3 With more online learning and long-distance learning via better technology, these concerns are also less valid. In fact Gen Z are at the forefront of hybrid learning technologies and many have enjoyed the flexibility this incurs. The OECD again: “In the longer run, highly educated mobile students are likely to integrate the domestic labour markets, contributing to innovation and economic performance.” This brings to mind the development of the COVID-19 vaccine by Prof Sahin and Dr Türeci, both raised in German by Turkish parents, who founded the biotech firm BioNTech together.

COVID-19 itself has been a massive Generation Defining Moment for Gen Zs, affecting nearly every aspect of their lives. According to the State Of Gen Z Study 2020, some 36% of high school students are reconsidering studying at University as the pandemic has caused so much uncertainty 4. This is why it is paramount that Gen Z are given the support – both financial and emotional – to carry on with their studies. Governments must come up with solutions to help this generation that has been so punished by the pandemic. They have an incredible potential to change the world for the better. Their activism and openness to new realities are strengths that should be harnessed. We simply cannot afford to let the opportunity of this exciting Gen Z pass us by. We must not let them down.

Generation Z Goes to College by Corey Seemiller, Meghan Grace

2 Education at a Glance 2021 OECD Indicators

3 Education at a Glance 2021 OECD Indicators

4 The Center for Generational Kinetics, LLC.

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