Education remains an important topic today for young people. Formalized education is being questioned on a local and global scale by students who struggled to keep up during the pandemic, with many reporting it as a “lost year”.

Covid disruption is only one issue Gen Z has with education.

We have seen Gen Z’s disenchantment with today’s education for years, beginning with research that inspired our Power & Privilege VICE Magazine editorial, to investigations into the future through The VICE Guide to 2030, to our ongoing partnership with ECMC Group and their Question The Quo initiative. We have been bending an ear to high school students on their issues with today’s educational path.

The question of ‘What’s next?’ is the underlying question of their lives. It’s a question many are asking when it comes to what they do after Secondary/High School. Higher education may not be the answer, at least not in the way we traditionally think of it.

Two themes have emerged from our research that Gen Z is reconciling with this decision. 1) They (Gen Z) feel unprepared for what’s next, and 2) They are seeking alternative pathways. 

Gen Z feels unprepared.

Globally, students are fighting a system that isn’t fair and isn’t preparing them for the next step. 

The education systems currently in place are having a pronounced negative influence on underserved communities across the globe. A recent article for VICE in India examined how the education system is exclusionary to the most economically disenfranchised, leaving many in an endless cycle of debt. In an earlier VICE News article, we explored the unique challenges lack of technology access creates for school children in the US when they’re forced to adapt to virtual environments without access to technology or stable living circumstances.

Since 2018 we have been hearing from students that they are dissatisfied with their current education; 98% of Gen Z in the US and UK reported feeling shortchanged by their education. They told us they lacked basic financial and personal life skills and inadequate guidance regarding the paths available to them.

Today, much of the same holds true. We recently asked Gen Z members of our proprietary insights community, VICE VOICES, to design a curriculum that would create success for future generations. They told us knowing how to manage one’s personal finances is a course that would be their top priority (#1). 

To Gen Z, courses on financial management, mental health and wellness (#2), Science-Backed Sex-Ed Coursea (#3), and Creativity (#4) would better set them up for success in the future.

Gen Z isn’t just looking to learn the basics. They want a balanced education that enables them to achieve happiness and become a well-rounded adult in today’s world.

They are seeking alternative education pathways.

If young people are not being set up for success from their current education, what is the likelihood they will achieve it with a post-high school education? According to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment rates in higher education declined across the OECD from 2017 to 2019, and in the United States starting in 2018 – Today.

During the pandemic, over 20% of high school students stopped considering a 4-year school as an option post-high school (VICE Media Group + ECMC, Question the Quo, United States, 2022). 

Cost is a well-documented nightmare of higher education. 6 in 10 of our Gen Z audience worry about how they’ll pay for college. But it’s not necessarily the loss of money that drives them. The tradeoff of time and potential earnings has impacted their decision-making most.

With time lost to prospective students during the pandemic, there is more urgency than ever in their education journey. 75% of (US) high school students already have a career in mind, and 73% say a direct path to a job/career is important in what they decide to do after high school. 

They want a clear path to a job and to make money sooner than later, so they are considering alternative pathways.

Alternative pathways also help the lack of education access that many students face. Students have been seeking out easy and accessible methods to upskill and increase their knowledge, as noted in Education Week in 2018. In fact, 7 in 10 of our Gen Z audience felt that online videos and articles would be major avenues of education, “they would be the most common ways that people will learn new skills in 2030.”’

These alternative pathways to higher education aren’t limited to websites. According to Gen Z, education will have a more fluid existence going forward. 6 in 10 expect to keep learning throughout their lives, and 86% of students want businesses to play a role in education going forward. The #1 way companies can do that is to provide their own formal education. Old company benefits no longer cut it for Gen Z, it’s time to rethink how businesses add value to this generation.

What businesses and brands can learn from this: 

#1 Attract and Nurture Talent With On-Going Education

Ask, how are you building your current and future employee’s expertise?

Champion community and inclusivity and offer accessible education resources. For senior leaders, understand that your youngest employees should be trained to reach your level and given opportunities to contribute to the conversation. Remember that you also have fans of your company amongst your customers and audiences, so display your unique expertise and inspire them to consider your industry in the future. 

At Vice Media Group, we share our expertise with those wanting to enter the industry. We created a fellowship program to nurture Gen Z talent, a digital film school for aspiring future documentary filmmakers and partnered with Mediacorp to bring to life The VICE Digital Creators Academy for Singapore Creatives.

#2 Step in to Solve Educational Gaps

What gaps in education and resources can we bridge for Gen Z? 

Whether it’s beauty, sex-ed, finance or creativity. Gen Z has a voracious appetite for learning, and those needs aren’t being met. Ask if you can support Gen Z and deliver your expertise/advice in a given field (or fields). How are you showing the world what you know? How are you uplifting others to navigate issues in which you have particular expertise?

At Vice Media Group, we’ve created courses/advice built on what our audience needs and what they request from us. We’ve created classes on sex education, a style summer school, and a Beauty School. These are topics inspired by our audience and built for our audience. 

So what’s next?

Younger generations aren’t going to sit idly by waiting for their education to match their expectations. We don’t have time for Governments to build a stronger educational foundation. The gap and need are clear for businesses to step up and create a more comprehensive education that helps build confidence in an uncertain future. Companies, Foundations, and Organizations can and should help fill these critical gaps to build trust and loyalty while building the foundation of a more educated society.