Skip navigation
EAB Logo Navigate to the EAB Homepage Navigate to EAB home

How can colleges prepare Gen Z for the workforce?

Building skills for America’s most diverse generation yet

March 28, 2024, By Subha Barry, President, Seramount

American colleges and universities are currently filled with the most diverse generation in U.S. history—Gen Z. By 2030, Gen Z are set to make up one fourth of the workforce and their values, challenges, and aspirations demand the attention of any employer hoping to remain competitive. As the president of Seramount, I am actively working to understand the tidal shift in workplace norms that Gen Z will bring. But it’s not just companies who need to pay close attention—higher education also has a critical role to play in preparing these students for work.

In January, I had the honor of sharing Seramount’s latest research on Gen Z at work with over 1,100 student success leaders at CONNECTED24—EAB’s student success conference—and I was energized by the connections between student success and career success. In this post, I’ll outline what we know so far about Gen Z’s work preferences and the specific skills higher education can foster to help these students contribute to inclusive workplaces where all employees can thrive.

Gen Z will proudly bring their values with them from college to career

My team recently conducted in-depth research on Gen Z’s work preferences and values. We surveyed Gen Z employees through Seramount’s Employee Voice Sessions, anonymous virtual listening sessions which bring together the best aspects of focus groups with the reach of engagement surveys to bring out rich qualitative stories. Contrary to prevailing myths, our research finds a generation full of motivation, ambition, and the willingness to work hard for their company’s success. There is an opportunity for employers to build loyalty among this generation through fair wages, flexibility, recognition, and advancement opportunities.

What We Know About Gen Z


  • The value mental health and well-being
  • Gen Z is the most stressed generation in the workforce

Career Journey

  • 3/4 will have to pay student loans and are stressed upon entering the workforce as early career talent and the desire to earn a fair wage
  • Job candidates take a company’s commitment to DEI into consideration when choosing an employer
  • They are willing to job hop

One example of Gen Z changing the status quo

The typical Analyst in investment banking works extraordinarily long hours starting at 8 or 9 am and work till the wee hours of the morning. They would come in at 8 or 9, but only receive their assignments around noon or 1. After that, they would get to work doing the research, computations, or PowerPoint decks for their seniors to review the next morning. Sometimes they finished around 1, 2, or even 3am! The review would happen in the morning and the updated tasks would be handed back to them around midday. That’s the hamster wheel they would be on for a few years, paying their dues until they got promoted.

Along came a new generation of Analysts who questioned their superiors as to why they needed to come and just hang around from 8 or 9 until noon or 1. Why couldn’t they just come in around midday? They refused to take “that’s how we’ve always done this” as a valid response. Guess what happened? Their work hours changed, and they were able to work more flexibly. Never doubt that a small but determined group of people can change corporate norms and procedures. These Analysts at a prestigious bank did just that.

3 Quick Wins for Student Mental Health

Equity matters for the 21st century workforce

Not only is Gen Z diverse; we know they also value diversity. How can you nurture that value amid the fight to dismantle DEI? In this year alone, more than 30 bills were introduced across the U.S. to limit or prohibit programs and resources for DEI on college campuses. A majority of these haven’t officially become law, but a few states have been successful in their efforts to hinder diversity efforts. In this volatile environment, it’s critical for higher ed institutions to stay the course when it comes to doing the hard work in supporting Gen-Z and then Generation Alpha, the next, even more diverse generation. Our duty to these young people is critical.

Many campuses are the setting of student-led protests tackling political and social issues. This will only get more pronounced as we head into a presidential election cycle. I appreciate the passion of today’s students and they have a right to stand up for what they believe in. But often these instances taking place on campus, like protests, will not translate to the workplace.

I recognize that their intentions come from a place of good. But are students falling into a trap by trying to silence different points of view? The relationship between habits built in college and their impact on workplace success is an intricate one. Higher-ed institutions serve as the vessel where diverse perspectives are encountered; students might not experience some forms of “diversity” until they reach your campuses at the age of 18. The ability to navigate these differences—whether of thought, background, race, religion, or political affiliation—are becoming a crucial skill for the workplace.

Facilitating productive disagreements will be a critical skill

While today’s students are so “connected” via social media, they tend to live in an echo chamber with voices and viewpoints like their own. They cancel out the other side by not being willing to listen. If they hear a counter view, they have the ability to mute or block with the swipe of a finger. How are you creating an environment where students can try to understand each other better? Are you fostering safe spaces for essential conversations?

Fostering safe spaces is not just about allowing them to speak, discuss, and even argue. It’s about teaching them how to see the humanity in each other even if they disagree on important issues. It’s about how to help them narrate their own stories and listen respectfully to other’s stories.

As I pondered how colleges and universities can build this skill, Irshad Manji’s wise guidance come to mind. She is a New York City-based educator and describes herself as a “reformed culture warrior” who spent years trying to win arguments. Then she learned to engage with diverse perspectives to solve problems. Her latest book, Don’t Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times, offers a blueprint for bridging divides and helping everyone take action together.

Irshad Manji’s 5-step formula to facilitate productive disagreements

1. Take a deep breath

Decades of science have found that deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which has an immediate calming effect on your mind. Instead of being overwhelmed by anger or stress, you can process thoughts more clearly.

As Manji notes, we breathe shallowly when stressed. Depriving the brain of oxygen causes us to react emotionally. Deep breathing allows us to utilize the “more evolved prefrontal cortex, where cognition and emotion can co-exist.”

2. Create common ground

Manji advises proactively creating common ground. How? Start by acknowledging that you’re going to disagree with the other person. Then recognize that there’s more to them than this one issue.

Manji believes that acknowledging someone’s humanity positively kicks off a conversation – and, in turn, opens their minds to hearing what you have to say as well.

3. Ask a sincere question

Sincerity goes a long way in building bridges. Expressing curiosity admits vulnerability and opens a door to learning.

Manji recommends asking the other person what you’re missing about their point of view. By asking someone to teach you, they might reciprocate. As Manji puts it, “you are modeling what it is to build the kind of culture that makes for inquiry rather than inquisition.”

4. Listen

Once the question is asked, sit back and listen. Really listen. Manji says you can either listen to win or to learn. Listening to win means poking holes in their argument the entire time. Don’t try to manipulate the other person with “gotcha” questions. Listen to learn.

5. Ask another question

Manji’s second question requires three simple words: “Tell me more.” She uses a story to highlight the power of this phrase. An activist was approached by a police officer at a town hall meeting on homelessness. The officer handed her a business card, telling her to contact him so they could work together. She replied belligerently. Then he said: “Tell me more.” The woman froze and accepted his card. She called a week later to apologize. She had only seen a uniform, not a human being. They then worked on a solution together.

Gen Z is a beacon of hope—with your help

I’d like to leave you with a heartfelt call to action. Reflect on and strengthen the DEI priorities set for your institutions. Remain resilient in the face of challenges. You are laying the foundation of positive change and ultimately, a better world. With your help building the habits of intellectual inclusiveness and curiosity as well as nurturing soft skills like interpersonal communication, listening, empathy, and problem-solving, this generation will thrive in the workplace.

Generation Z is a beacon of hope. They are the catalysts for change and a more inclusive future, but they need our guidance, commitment, and support. I challenge you to think about how you can make a difference in these young people’s lives and forge a future where every student, regardless of background or circumstance, finds a place to thrive.

More Blogs


What can we learn from first-year GPA?

More universities could be using one of the most basic student success indicators—first year GPA—to focus advising efforts…
Student Success Blog

Exploring the value of students’ midterm data

Preliminary research from a subset of the SSC national data set found that midterm grades aren't necessarily as…
Student Success Blog

Three innovative ways to use financial aid to promote student success

Learn how institutions can use conventional aid programs not only to recruit students, but to promote student success.