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Gen Z: Education vs. Experience

We live in a generation that is transfixed by the here and the now with quick fixes and short-cuts increasingly becoming a way of life. The era of Generation X (Gen X), born between 1965 to 1976, created thought leaders due to the longevity of one person in one particular job. Gen X was more likely to have one career path over their lifespan due to the value of service and by the time they reach retirement, they naturally became subject experts from amassed knowledge in a particular profession. This traditional path of service has seen a great fall in numbers in recent years. Manuel Grenacher, a serial tech entrepreneur from Switzerland states, “The younger generations aren’t looking for the same rewards or financial incentives from their jobs as older generations. Rather that wages and stability being the anchors that help retain them, they’re driven by purpose and flexibility.”

What is interesting to note is Gen Y, also known as Millennials and born between 1977 to 1995, are the most educated generation, while Gen X has masses without basic education, this is due to the lack of access to basic education in a time where colonization and apartheid were rife. During this time, individuals amassed high technical skills and on-hand experience without educational qualifications. In recent times, countries like the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand have implemented recognition for prior learning which allows one with on-hand experience to undergo evaluation of competence for accreditation, particularly targeting Gen X.

However, in today’s world, Gen Z have taken to acquiring a number of degrees, because the workforce now requires average to above-average education due to a competitive work market. Annie Meuller, a content strategist at Prolica sums it up this way: “A master's degree gets you more money than a bachelor's degree; a professional degree gets you more money than a master's degree; but a doctoral degree, the highest point of educational attainment on the list, actually gets you less money than a professional degree. This is probably because most Ph.D.s go into academia, research, and teaching, where salaries are lower.” There seems to be a blurred line drawn between educational background and experience, such that Gen Z is unable to make a choice between furthering their educational aspirations or rather getting into the work market to acquire relevant experience in a field.

Often, scholars opt and choose to pursue a certification in a field that is desirable in the work market, often with no true understanding of what the job entails and end up adoing a job they have no passion for. True to this, on a personal note, I studied engineering for my undergraduate degree and through the duration of the course enjoyed every aspect of engineering. It was not until I entered the job market that the realization dawned on me that I did not enjoy studying engineering due the content, but rather the challenge. Today, I am glad I studied engineering, because it gave me an analytical skill I can use in any professional setting, but it was not after years of searching that I was able to truly understand where my true passion lies.

George D. Kuh, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, stated that "[working during university] helps students see first-hand the practical value of their classroom learning by applying it in real-life settings—which, additionally, often helps to clarify their career aspirations." The number of students who either drop out of University or finish a degree only to have it collect dust on a shelf has rapidly increased in Namibia. In addition, there are more job seeker than vacancies and the unemployment rate continuous to grow yearly. More Gen Y are in jobs that do not align with their chosen career or profession due to a lack of job opportunities in a stringent economy battling unemployment.

Times are rapidly changing, with technology advancing exponentially, and so are the skills required in the work market. There seems to be a greater demand for higher education, with the simultaneous requirement for work experience. The debate strives to ask relevant questions as to how to place oneself in a desirable position to be the top candidate through job interview stages in an ever-changing job market. There is no one right answer as to whether to go the route of acquiring high levels of education or whether to work on getting on hand experience first. What has proven to work is the slower educational path, which is both work and education. You will lose time potentially, but you will have a valuable combination.

Time is perceptive; rather you walk the path proven then look for shortcuts in a system that already has you at a loss due to the rapid pace at which technology and innovation are developing.

Written By Mavis Braga Elias

Civil Engineer, Trade Specialist, Speaker and Philanthropist

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